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Resources for the Natural Sciences

The sciences reside in four contiguous buildings, fostering cross-disciplinary collaboration, and in Rockefeller and Ely halls and the Class of 1951 Observatory. These buildings have “smart” classrooms, faculty offices, labs, and sophisticated instrumentation specific to each discipline in addition to resources shared across the natural science departments and related interdepartmental and multidisciplinary programs.

The science cluster includes Olmsted Hall, Sanders Physics, and New England Building as well as the spectacular new Brige for Laboratory Sciences, spanning the Fonteyn Kill and connected to Olmsted. This science-focused area of campus houses the departments of Biology, Chemistry, Cognitive Science, Computer Science, Physics and Astronomy, and Psychological Science as well as labs supporting Biochemistry, Earth Science, Environmental Studies, and Neuroscience and Behavior.

The Biology Department (Olmsted Hall) supports the process of biological inquiry from molecules to ecosystems. Major instrumentation and facilities include genomic/proteomic/biochemical instrumentation, with a DNA microarray scanner; a cell imaging facility, including epiflorescent, confocal, and 3D microscopes with image acquisition and analysis tools; physiological instruments, such as microinjection tools; cell, plant, and animal culturing facilities, including sterile cell culture; a large greenhouse; electroencephalographic (EEG) recording systems; eye tracking systems; and a vivarium supporting animal research in biology, neuroscience and behavior, and psychology. A phytotron with a dozen controlled-environment chambers and an herbarium are housed in the new science laboratories building connected to Olmsted Hall.

The Chemistry Department is located in the new science laboraties building. Chemistry faculty and students carry out experiments using an extensive array of state-of-the-art instrumentation for molecular structure determination, spectroscopy, chromatography, and other specialized techniques. Recent acquisitions include a liquid chromatography electrospray ionization quadrupole time of flight mass spectrometer (LC-ESI-MS) used to study the structure and composition of lipids and proteins, and a charge-coupled device (CCD) dual source X-ray diffractometer used to determine the three-dimensional arrangement of atoms in molecules.

The Cognitive Science Department (New England Building and Olmsted Hall) maintains state-of-the-art laboratories for research in human electroencephalography, human behavioral studies, computational modeling, and robotics. In addition, the department uses other facilities on campus for teaching and research, including the Wimpfheimer Nursery School for studies of cognitive development and the Interdisciplinary Robotics Research Laboratory for studies in human-machine interaction as well as work with autonomous robots.

The Computer Science Department (Sanders Physics) uses a dedicated network of 48 Linux workstations available 24 hours a day. In addition to these workstations, resources are maintained for advanced research and techniques such as 3D modeling, computational linguistics, computer animation, interdisciplinary projects, and GPU-accelerated parallel algorithms. Students may also access a High-Performance Computer cluster supporting multiple parallel, distributed, and grid computing paradigms.

The Department of Earth Science and Geography (Ely Hall) has laboratories devoted to research in geophysics, climate change, water and sediment chemistry, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Major instrumentation includes an X-ray diffractometer for studying crystal structures, geophysical surveying equipment (electrical resistivity meter, magnetometer, and ground penetrating radar), a Silicon Graphics Workstation for geophysical and 3D terrain modeling, a coulometer and Chittick apparatus for carbon analysis, an alkalinity titrator, and a 16-seat computer lab for cartography, spatial data analysis, and numerical modeling. The department makes extensive use of the environmental sciences lab, located in the science laboratories building, for teaching and research. The department also maintains field equipment such as sediment samplers and corers, stream gauges, Yellowsprings Instruments sondes for in-stream water chemistry monitoring, tablet PCs, a weather station at the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve, and Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers for field work and environmental investigations.

The Mathematics and Statistics Department is located in Rockefeller Hall. Facilities include classrooms, offices, display spaces, and a lounge-library that houses a collection of books of particular interest to mathematics undergraduates.

The Department of Physics and Astronomy (Sanders Physics) provides computer laboratories equipped for work in observational astronomy (image processing and data analysis) and computational physics. Physics research labs contain multiple laser systems, including 6-Watt and 4-Watt 532-nm continuous-wave lasers and an ultrafast laser capable of producing sub-picosecond pulses. The optics lab is equipped for spectroscopy and applied optics studies. The acoustics lab features a 1:2 (half-size) reverberation chamber and state-of-the-art acoustic transducers and computing equipment, allowing for study in a wide range of areas from architectural acoustics to psychoacoustics. Physics teaching labs are equipped with instrumentation for majors to perform various classic experiments, including ones in holography, crystal structure, and blackbody radiation. Observational astronomy takes place in the Class of 1951 Observatory, described below.

The Psychological Science Department (New England Building and Olmsted Hall) maintains state-of-the-art laboratories for research in physiology, neurochemistry, experimental learning, and electrophysiology, as well as observation and testing suites with sophisticated audio and video recording equipment for the study of development, individual differences, and social behavior. In addition, the Wimpfheimer Nursery School, described below, serves as an on-campus laboratory for students pursuing coursework and research in developmental psychology.

The Scientific Visualization Laboratory, located in the new science laboratories building, is a multidisciplinary computing space dedicated to research and teaching in the natural sciences. It is designed to be both a classroom for sessions requiring the use of high-end software tools and a research facility where Vassar faculty and students develop individual and collaborative projects. It is equipped with high-end multiprocessor workstations as well as state-of-the-art audiovisual hardware.

The Wimpfheimer Nursery School, one of the first laboratory schools in the U.S., has a twofold mission: to provide quality early childhood education and to serve as a laboratory for observation and research on child development and education. Students in developmental psychology classes and educational theory classes routinely use Wimpfheimer for observation and research.

The Bridge for Laboratory Sciences incorporates the Interdisciplinary Robotics Research Laboratory, the first at an undergraduate institution in the U.S. The facility enables exploration of the technology of autonomous machines, the simulation of such systems for purposes such as the study of animal evolution, and the use of these technologies in studies of telepresence, virtual reality, and related phenomenon.

The Class of 1951 Observatory includes a double-domed structure which houses a 32-inch reflecting telescope (tied for largest in New York State) and a 20-inch reflecting telescope. Each is equipped with a CCD camera and spectograph. There are also several small telescopes and a solar telescope. The observatory also has a warm room for controlling the telescopes, a classroom, and an observation deck. Students also conduct research using data from the Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes and other national observatories.