Excitement and Exploration as the New Science Complex Opens

Two students talk to each others with other students walking by in the background in the new science center hub.
Image credit: Shannon O'Brien
Author  E.B. Bartels ’10
Published on 

“Things can and will go wrong, and we'll be patient with ourselves when they do,” Rebecca Belisle, assistant professor of physics at Wellesley, told her students in PHYS 210: Experimental Techniques on January 31, their first day in the lab this semester. The group was compiling a list of safety protocols, and Belisle reassured them that though accidents might happen, it’s all part of the process. “If you break stuff, it’s fine! Try things out! Be bold! Explosions are learning!” she shouted joyfully. The physics students laughed. “Well, maybe those are dangerous words to say on our first day in a new space,” she added.

Wintersession and the first week of the spring semester were held remotely due to the omicron surge, so Wellesley students were eager to return to in-person classes this week. But January 31 was a monumental day for another reason as well: It marked the start of classes in the brand-new Science Complex.

The Science Complex is now open to faculty, staff, and students; a public opening celebration is planned for this fall. Construction of the Science Complex, which is on target to achieve LEED Platinum certification for sustainable design, has been an enormous undertaking: It started in spring 2018, so members of the class of 2022 have been waiting their whole Wellesley careers to set foot in the new space.

Several staff members were on hand to direct students through the new building. Charlana Simmons, director of the ​​Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program at Wellesley, said she “had a ball” helping them find their way: “The energy they bring to the campus is refreshing and has been missed!”

As students streamed into the new parts of the complex—including the Research, Innovation, and Teaching Building (the north wing) and the Chao Foundation Innovation Hub, which connects to the historic Faroll Focus—squeals of excitement and gasps echoed off the freshly painted walls: “Dude! It’s beautiful!” and “I can’t believe how pretty it is!” Students stopped mid-stride to take pictures, throw out their arms gleefully, or point up at the exposed wood beams and spherical light fixtures. Simmons said one student told her she wished she were a science major just so she could spend more time in the new space, and a senior said she was happy she could experience the final product before she graduated. Architecture students in particular were in awe of the preservation of the old Sage building wall in the Faroll Focus.

Students quickly made themselves at home in the many cozy corners of the new space. Lana Honcharuk ’24 set herself up to work at a table near a big, bright window in the hub, and her friend Yasmin Afifi ’22 stopped to say hi. They gushed about the natural light and all the places to sit—“And there are outlets everywhere!” Both had class in the building for the first time that morning, and Honcharuk said she came 30 minutes early just to walk around and explore.

In her NEUR 310: Neuroethology of Decision Making class, Kresa Family Assistant Professor of Neuroscience Sara Wasserman ’02 asked students to design and build prototypes of their friend’s dream cell phone. The table was littered with pom-poms, felt, yarn, pipe cleaners, string, foam, and tinfoil, and Wasserman put on a playlist featuring Paul Simon and Smokey Robinson. When Wasserman was asked how the Science Complex compares now to how it was when she was a student, she laughed: “Night and day!” She gestured at the tall windows and large tables and the sweeping views of Wellesley’s landscape—but at the center of it all were her students, laughing and chatting as they handed scissors and tape to one another, working together.

Hira Khan ’23, Alex Tse’23, and Ilma Aamir ’23 sat around a tucked-away table on the fourth floor, chatting about their recent Wordle attempts as they looked out over the snowy Science Complex roof toward Galen Stone Tower. Sachi Tanwar ’23 settled into a wooden alcove on the north side of the building, overlooking the snow-covered Whitin Observatory. Tanwar said prior to the opening of the new Science Complex spaces, the east side of campus had few spots for students to hang out. But that’s all changing now. “I love this building,” Tanwar said. “I won’t be leaving ever.”