New chem lab serves as catalyst for student research at Mercyhurst

new lab

When Zurn Hall’s biochemistry lab got a much-needed upgrade this summer, Mercyhurst University assistant professor Amy Parente, Ph.D., reclaimed a 1926-vintage lab table for her office. Department Chair Clint Jones, Ph.D., added two new offices for his faculty, and students repurposed space for their own gatherings. 

And those were just the tangential gains. The new laboratory – with a configuration that optimizes efficiency, advanced equipment and built-in safety features – heightens the classroom experience and, more specifically, the research opportunities for students.

As many as a couple hundred Mercyhurst students – chemistry and biochemistry majors, but also other majors who elect to take the core class, “Chemical Principles,” taught by Parente and Carl Voltz – end up in the biochemistry lab each year. While the lab has been modified in years past, this marks the first complete overhaul in as far back as anyone can remember, Jones said.

The new lab essentially changes how the department teaches biochemistry by creating a glassed-in designated space for research that can proceed uninterrupted even while the lab’s main space is being used. Currently, Parente’s students are researching chemical contaminants in local beach waters, among them fluoxetine (an antidepressant), triclosan (antibacterial and antifungal agent) estradiol (a sex hormone), diuron (herbicide) and sucralose (a chlorinated form of sucrose found in artificial sweeteners).

The new lab’s layout features "islands" where students can face each other for group work; some are moveable to create a dynamic space for lectures and lab work. New ways to share and store equipment make it easier to set up and clean up.

The lab, created to be ADA-friendly (Americans with Disabilities Act), is equipped with high-grade safety features, including an emergency eye wash and shower. Jones added that the lab even capitalizes on Mercyhurst’s commitment to sustainability with the installation of a skylight that provides the primary illumination for the prep and storage room.

University officials are committed to making Mercyhurst a high-stakes player in the world of science across academia. In all, the university maintains 25 science labs; nearly 20 have seen new construction or renovation in the past decade.

PHOTO: Chemistry/biochemistry faculty Carl Voltz, left, engages student Lorraine Gentner in main lab, while faculty Amy Parente, far right, oversees research of student Kristen Vidmar in adjoining facility.

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