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'Less exciting, less fun': Undergraduates express frustration with science lab renovations | News

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Maria Gill
Maria Gill
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Ongoing renovations at the Harvard Science Center have disrupted many science courses by closing first- and second-floor teaching laboratories, frustrating some undergraduates.

Construction of the teaching laboratories began in December 2023 – as part of a larger modernization of the Science Center – and is expected to continue until 2025. The new facilities will “modernize the laboratories in terms of laboratory equipment and building infrastructure, as well as modernize their facilities.” “The design and layout reflect modern pedagogy,” according to a March statement to The Crimson from Harvard spokeswoman Holly J. Jensen.

“The labs are being renovated in two phases, allowing us to reduce the number of lab classrooms that must be moved during the renovation,” Jensen wrote.

Despite these efforts, many courses remain disrupted, and students said they felt stressed.

Physical Sciences 11: Foundations and Frontiers of Modern Chemistry: A Molecular and Global Perspective — a large introductory chemistry course — had to completely change its laboratory format.

While previous iterations of the course required students to attend a 2.5-hour laboratory section once a week, the closure of labs resulted in the sections being split into two: wet lab and dry lab.

Some students expressed frustration with the new lab structure.

“They've changed a lot” in the course this year, said Arian Y. Rodrigo, 27, a PS 11 student.

“They switched a lot of labs,” she said. “It kinda messed up my schedule too.”

“I think it is a different experience from all the previous classes that have been shared,” Rodrigo added.

“About half of our labs have been canceled or done online,” said Caris J. Eaton, a September 27 graduate, also a PS 11 student.

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“We didn't get to do a lot of the fun or interesting labs that they were planning to do,” Eaton said. “This type of behavior has affected everyone's attitudes toward the lab, making it less exciting and less fun, which is unfortunate.”

Chemistry 27: The Organic Chemistry of Life was also affected by the laboratory renovations.

Caitlin S. said: Garcia, 25, a Chemistry ’27 student, said some components of the lab have been converted to a “dry” format, with students simulating what would otherwise be wet lab experiments.

“They would walk us through it step by step to make sure we saw the material and were exposed to it and understood what the process would have been like in person,” Garcia said.

Despite the unconventional changes to science labs in response to the Science Center renovations, some students said the new lab format provides the same benefits.

Sandhya Kumar, a Chem 27 student and Crimson editorial editor, wrote in an email statement to The Crimson that the dry labs “were just as informative as the wet lab.”

“It's a pretty decent format,” Eaton said.

“I think it definitely allows you to have more interaction with the lab to see more things happening and fill in some of the gaps in the dry lab,” Eaton said.

“I think I still have a complete understanding of the concepts thanks to the lab,” Rodrigo said. “I appreciate it more because there is more to the application rather than just the concept.”

According to Jensen, the Harvard project team will “seek feedback from users of the Science Center on an ongoing basis” in order to inform the “design and construction process.”

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Some students also praised the faculty's efforts to make the most of the limited situation.

“The course staff did their best to make it as natural as possible, and scheduled more times and days to do the lab!” Kumar wrote.

However, Garcia said, “I really hope that moving forward, they will be able to keep construction to a minimum.”

“I think for a lot of STEM classes, the onus is on faculty and students to make quick changes to their courses that are kind of unexpected,” she said.

—Staff writer Danielle GM can be reached at [email protected].

-Staff writer Jackson C. Sennott can be reached at [email protected].

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