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When the School of Chemical, Biological, and Environmental Engineering moved into Johnson Hall in Fall 2016, one of the most awaited transformations was the school’s Unit Operations Laboratory.
What was a relatively hidden facility, tucked away below ground level in Gleeson Hall, has been completely reconfigured into a sparkling showcase on the second floor of the new building. Floor-to-ceiling glass walls afford visitors a clear view of the array of apparatus and instrumentation within, making the Unit Ops Lab a popular stop on College of Engineering tours.
The redesign of the lab, which serves as a hands-on classroom for upper-division students and as the incubator for senior capstone projects, was conceived with student success in mind, said Philip Harding, the school’s Linus Pauling Chair in Chemical Engineering and associate head of undergraduate programs. Students drove the process and were involved at every stage.
“The 2016 senior class of chemical engineering students really took this on as a class project,” Harding said. “We identified priorities by focusing on areas where the students felt their educational experience would benefit the most. Then we followed a methodology in which we matched the strongest needs with available resources to get the maximum instructional and experiential value possible into this space.”
The centerpiece of the new Unit Ops Lab is a glass, five-tray, steam-powered continuous distillation apparatus, which had been lingering in storage for nearly a decade. After consulting with an alumnus who had helped to put together the column as a master’s student in the 1970s, the school obtained a copy of a paper that student had written about 40 years previously, detailing its assembly and operation.
The lab also contains apparatus for batch distillation, gas absorption, process dynamics and control, liquid-liquid extraction, a plug-flow reactor, and a continuously stirred tank reactor.
“This place is going to be like Disneyland for engineering students,” Harding said.