Math major Alexa Ortiz ’15 pushes against the heavy glass doors as she enters John Brooks Williams Natural Sciences Center–South. She swipes her student ID to enter the third-floor Computational Math Research Lab. The white board has remnants of last night’s study session, and an ongoing chess game sits in the corner. Ortiz is in the room almost daily to work on her research project — exploring the use of binary partitions. 

Her research is a three-semester-long process that will culminate in her presentation at Senior Seminar in May. She’s got a ways to go between now and then, so she logs on to one of the two computational computers and starts running a complex calculation. The computers are designed to process high levels of data and can conduct computations in about a third of the time as her own laptop. She checks her phone for the time. Soon, she’ll meet with her advisor, Associate Professor of Mathematics Edward Early, in his nearby office to go over her progress.

Around the corner in the Math Tutoring Lab, fellow Math major Dani Pedroza ’13 helps students use Maple software to complete laboratory assignments. Down the hall, Associate Professor of Mathematics David Naples greets students who are about to start their final in the physics lab, where they’ll rotate through eight experiments followed by a short calculation. Downstairs, Computer Science major Kirby Powell ’14 enters the Mabee Foundation Advanced Computing Lab, which is equipped with 36 computer workstations, where he’ll finish up homework before class.

Since the center opened in September, it’s established itself as a hub for student exploration and collaboration. The building is rich with research opportunities related to such areas as software engineering, computer technology, environmental science and forensics, but students of all majors benefit from the technology and shared spaces inside. In this photo essay, see how thoughtful architectural design merges with science to create an atmosphere of discovery and interaction. 

  1. The 62,334-square-foot center houses the Computer Science, Mathematics and Bioinformatics programs, as well as custom laboratories for physics and science classes for non-majors.
  2. The 125-seat auditorium accommodates science and general-education classes, faculty meetings and campuswide events, such as the Lucian Symposium, which brings noted scientists to speak on global health and infectious diseases.
  3. Math major Sterling Loza ’16, one of nine math tutors, rolls a white board on wheels from table to table as he works one-on-one with students in the Math Tutoring Lab. Approximately 25 students drop by daily for free tutoring in all levels of math. The most popular tutoring request? Help with Calculus I.
  4. The academic areas inside the natural sciences center expand possibilities for collaborative research, but the stunning two-story staircase showcases the building’s exceptional design. California-based Moore Ruble Yudell Architects and Planners collaborated with Austin-based STG Design Inc. on both the north and south science buildings. 
  5. The introductory-level physics lab is used by students taking first-semester Mechanics and Waves and second-semester Electricity, Magnetism and Optics. The courses incorporate up to eight stations to conduct short lab experiments, such as using a computer interface to determine the period of oscillation for a simple pendulum or using a vernier scale to measure the diameter and length of a cylinder.
  6. The outdoor classroom allows students to study Texas Hill Country vegetation and the effects of extreme weather and sudden changes on the plants. Professor of Biological Sciences Bill Quinn teaches the course Economic Botany during the fall semester.
  7. Four Computer Science classrooms act as open-plan studios for group and individual work.
  8. As students wait for classes to start, conversations focus on upcoming exams and challenging homework problems. The thoughtfully placed benches encourage impromptu study sessions. 
  9. A rain garden collects runoff from the building and purifies the water as it passes through a gravel bed while hydrating the surrounding plants.
  10. Faculty offices — 30 in total — are located near the classrooms, offering opportunities for students to drop in during office hours. Professor of Computer Science Laura Baker meets with a student in her office to discuss a web programming assignment.

By Hannah Hepfer
Photos by Jessica Attie ’04 and John Linden