With renovations, physics department’s Small Hall gets bigger

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February 6, 2009

2:03 AM

The William Small Physical Laboratory, commonly known as Small Hall, is being renovated and expanded to provide modern facilities and greater research capabilities for the College of William and Mary’s physics department.

This $25 million renovation will add two new wings and expand research lab space from 11,300-square feet to 23,000-square feet. The building currently has 67,000-square feet total for research and teaching labs, classrooms and offices.

“This will enable us to do on-campus, hands-on research for undergrad and summer students,” physics professor and chair of the Physics Department Facilities Committee David Armstrong said.

All physics majors are required to lead a research project as seniors.

One of the new wings under construction will be a high-bay lab area, with two floors of open space and an interior crane.

“We can construct large pieces of apparatus,” Armstrong said. “We’re building this thing in the basement now for [the] Fermi Lab in Chicago and we can barely fit [the] pieces.”

The second wing will house modular, reconfigurable labs that can be easily modified to suit the needs of new research.

Additionally, it will contain a room housing computers that can be used for simulations and high-power experiments. Currently, such research is being conducted at the Applied Research Center in Newport News because of inadequate space on campus.

“These computers are so dense and need lots of electrical power,” Armstrong said.

Other labs include an ultra-clean, low dust environment for sensitive parts and an ultra-low vibrations area, in which lasers can be studied.

The two new wings are scheduled to be completed by winter break this year. Over the summer, research will be shifted to the new wings. Classrooms and offices will also move.

“We’re contingent on the [Integrated Science Center]. Psych and bio will move into ISC. We will move to Millington. It’s staged so that it’s lacking in disruption to the teaching and research programs,” Armstrong said.
“The idea is to keep the present building operating until the new buildings are ready.”

Existing portions of the building will then be renovated for the first time since Small was constructed in 1964 to meet modern building codes and become more handicap-accessible. Armstrong said the two lecture halls will be renovated over the summer and will open by this fall.

“Essentially, the interior of the building will be gutted,” Armstrong said.

The renovation has been planned so the College’s physics department will have facilities that fit the guidelines of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, which are based on the number of grants for and graduate students involved in research. This was done after an external architectural firm ran a feasibility study in 2005.

Armstrong said the College’s physics department is less endowed than comparable departments around the nation.

Currently, the department has less than one-third of what the guideline suggests, as well as one-third as much space per faculty member than the University of Virginia and less than half as much space as Virginia Tech.

Small’s facilities will still be slightly below the SCHEV guidelines after the renovation, but it should be completed and reopened by the spring of 2010.

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