posted May 25, 2011

NSF Grant Enhances Engineering and Physics Research Labs

Multiple faculty-student research teams in physics and engineering at Hope College are starting the summer research season with new space thanks to a major grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The $347,069 award has supported the renovation and creation of multiple research laboratories within VanderWerf and Van Zoeren halls, the departments' home.  In work that took place across the spring semester and the first weeks of the college's summer break, several existing rooms have been reconfigured, to the extent of emptying them out and moving interior walls, to provide research space that reflects the continued growth of the programs.

"Through this project we had the ability to sit back and say, 'If we start from scratch, where does it make sense for things to be?'" said Dr. Catherine Mader, professor of physics, who co-authored the grant proposal with Dr. Michael Jipping of the computer science faculty.  "We've not only been able to provide additional space for many of the research groups, but have been able to tailor-make the space for them, so that they can do their research more easily and effectively."

The work has added two laboratories for research and renovated five others, with the additional space carved from former teaching laboratory and storage rooms.  A total of five faculty-led research teams working with about 20 students this summer are most extensively affected, although other research groups at the college also use some of the instrumentation in the laboratories in their projects as well.

The specific research projects affected - themselves supported through external grant funding - range from characterizing local sediment to identify sources of pollution, to creating and analyzing new types of metal alloys, to studying the performance and durability of reinforced concrete structures.

The seven laboratories are a microwave research facility; a surface science facility; a heavy ion nuclear research facility; a radiodating facility; the Hope Ion Beam Accelerator Laboratory; a materials characterization facility; and a civil engineering facility.  In addition to designing the spaces with work flow in mind and providing new cabinetry and storage accordingly, improvements have ranged from installing a battery back-up and link to a generator to protect the accelerator in the event of a power failure, to adding drainage and ventilation systems for concrete mixing and testing, to adding glass to some of the interior walls and doorways so that visitors can see the work in progress.  The NSF grant has been funded through the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act" (ARRA) of 2009.

VanderWerf Hall opened in September 1964 and was originally named the "Physics-Mathematics Hall" after the departments initially housed in it.  The building, which contains a variety of other research and teaching laboratories in addition to classrooms and faculty offices, was renamed VanderWerf Hall in 1981 in honor of Dr. Calvin A. VanderWerf, who served as the college's president from 1963 to 1970.  VanderWerf Hall was extensively renovated in 1989, with additional classroom and laboratory space added in a connecting link constructed to join the building to Van Zoeren Hall to the east.

VanderWerf Hall today also houses the departments of computer science, which became a department in 1975, and engineering, which became a major at the college in 1997 after developing for more than two decades as a concentration within physics.  From 10 faculty in physics and mathematics in 1964, the four departments total about 30 faculty today.  All four departments maintain active research programs, 13 groups total, conducting research during the summer and school year alike.