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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Fernald Hall

I heard that there was an extensive bug collection in Fernald Hall, so I decided to walk over to take a look.  I didn't call anyone in advance, just bopped over to see if I could find something.  The insect collection is a part of the larger Natural History Collection that exists on campus.  While much of the Natural History Collection is located in Morill, the insects can be found in Fernald Hall.

The Entomology department falls under the Plant, Soil, and Insect Sciences department on campus.  Its main location is Fernald Hall.  All of the programs that fall under Plant, Soil and Insect Sciences tie closely with the agricultural base that the University of Massachusetts Amherst has as its roots (no pun intended).  As a result, this is one of the oldest academic areas of the University.  In fact, the first course in Entomology was taught in 1868!  C.H. Fernald was appointed to the faculty in 1886 and his son later worked in the same department (for which the building was named).  These stately individuals can be seen in the picture to the right.

Along with a pretty old-school looking lecture, there are multiple research labs in the building, department member offices, and the insect collection.  I was able to quickly peek into the area where most of the insects are stored.  A helpful individual informed me that there were hundreds of thousands of insects labeled and tucked away in their respective drawers.  Some poor soul has the task of cataloging the specimens, its a job that appears to be tedious at best.

The "museum" is in a hall upstairs.  There are live insects, and specimens that have been preserved and labeled.  They have been arranged by category, and are impressive in their cases.  It was difficult to take pictures with the glare of the overhead lights on the glass, but I managed to get some good shots.  There were also live insects in their respective terrariums.  There were two different types of cockroaches (both very large), stick bugs, a scorpion, two different types of black beetles and a tarantula.  They were also hard to get pictures of, but here's my best attempt at a cave cockroach.

I'll be trying to schedule a formal tour for the guides sometime soon!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Renaissance Center

Visiting the UMass Renaissance Center was a great way to bring this week to a close!  Our tour guide, Lucinda Kidder brought us through the building, around the grounds, and into the neighboring barn.  The weather was perfect for us to see a grand view of the valley and fields near the building.

The building that currently houses the Renaissance Center was donated by the Dakin family (yes, the same family that contributed to the creation of the Dakin Animal Shelter).  The University has been utilizing the facility since the late 1980s.  The main uses of the Renaissance Center include: research, classes, and hosting events for the community.  The grounds also have a large number of trails that can be used for walks or cross country skiing!

In addition to hosting courses, which are mainly graduate level, the Renaissance Center is the home to an extensive library of over 700 rare books.  This collection is actually one of the largest in New England and researchers regularly visit to use the collection for their areas of study.  Some of the books are incredibly fragile, as a result the books are kept in the facility.  The basement houses the majority of the collection, and after visiting  it's pretty obvious that the current space is full to its gills.  As a result, a campaign to build a 16th century Great Hall has been established.

The proposed Great Hall will provide a location for theater, dance and music performances.  It can also be used for lectures, conferences, and classes.  The lower level of the facility will be used to house the ever-expanding collection of rare books.  Of course, in order for this proposal to become a reality, the Center will need to have the financial support.  I'm hopeful adequate financial backing will be acquired soon.

The grounds and gardens surrounding the building are beautifully maintained!  The gardens have plants that would have been found in Elizabethan times.  There is room to accommodate a tent and outdoor stage for the Renaissance Fair the Center hosts each year.  It has also been used for community events and weddings.

The adjacent barn is currently being used to house costumes and props for a local Shakespearean theater troupe.  The ground level has been setup to serve as a black box theater, until the Great Hall is constructed.  Productions are as authentic as possible, with period dress, limited usage of sets, and little adjustments to lighting.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Durfee Conservatory

Yesterday was wet and cold, a perfect day to visit a warm greenhouse!  We visited the Durfee Conservatory in the afternoon and was greeted by warmth and the soothing sound of rain pattering against the glass roof.  Add a cup of tea, and we would have taken a nice nap!  Instead of snoozing, Our tour guide, Michael Formosi walked us through the facility and shared information about the University's collections and the history of the conservatory.

We walked through the greenhouses, that are organized by category.  Our first stop was the Succulent House.  The plants aren't named "Succulents" because of they're tasty.  These plants have adapted over time to survive with limited water available.  As a result, they have hard waxy exteriors, and are able to store water.  Examples of Succulent plants you might know include: Agave, Aloe, Cacti and Jade.  Some of the Cactus plants we saw were over twenty years old!

Our next stop was the Collections House.  While the types of plants in this room vary, the common thread is that most are aromatic.  Rubbing the leaves between our finger tips released the essential oils and each plant's unique scent.  We smelled Lemon-grass, Basil, and Lavender, among other plants!  We learned about the Mimosa plant, an herb that responds to touch.  When you touch the tip of its of leaves, they fold inward.  Its scientific name actually means shy!  As soon as I figure out how to post the video, you'll be able to see it in action (in the meantime, I linked a video from youtube)!

The middle greenhouse is referred to as the Tropical or Rain forest House.  Complete with bamboo benches, a pond with Koi fish, bullfrogs and a bridge, this space truly is a small rain forest in the middle of the UMass campus.  There are Chewing Gum, Coco, Fig, and Banana trees along with Swiss Cheese plants, King Fern and Bamboo.  Between the soothing music and warm moist air, it truly is a refuse for cold students in the middle of a New England winter.

The second to last greenhouse is the Orchid and Exotic plant house.  The common denominator for this location is that all of the plants grow in trees.  Some of the plants, called Bromeliads, have thick and sturdy leaves that grow in such a way that they can pool water.  This water is a source of sustenance for tree-dwelling animals, and can also be where tree frogs lay their eggs!

Our final stop was the Bonsai and Chamilia greenhouse.  Some of the Conservatory's oldest plants can be found in this space.  I'll be discussing the facility's history in the next paragraph, but it's important to note that the building was damaged a couple of time since its creation in the mid 1800s.  A handful of the original plants are located in the last room we visited, meaning they're over 100 years old!  The Bonsai plants truly are works of art.  For the past two years, a Bonsai master from Japan has come to the conservatory to assist with shaping the trees.

The Durfee Conservatory was built in 1867.  In 1883, the buildings were seriously damaged by a fire.  The facility was renovated ten years later, to be damaged again after an oak tree fell during a hurricane.  An entirely new facility was constructed in 1954 and is what is currently available.  A new greenhouse is slated for construction on campus, in addition to the Conservatory in the next year or so.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Skinner School of Nursing

We recently had the opportunity to visit the Skinner School of Nursing for a tour of the facilities.  Our main focus of concentration was seeing the Simulation Laboratories, and we were escorted by Helene Cunningham, the director of the Sim Labs in the Nursing building.

The School of Nursing has been a part of the UMass Amherst community since 1953.  We currently have bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs available.  A primary focus of the curriculum includes hands-on experience.  This is reflected in the Simulation Labs available on campus, along with the significant clinical affiliations students obtain prior to their graduation.  Clinical locations can include: hospitals, extended care facilities, ambulatory care clinics, schools, senior centers, day programs, and correctional facilities.  These clinical locations can be found in Massachusetts and throughout New England.

The Skinner School of nursing was officially dedicated on October 2, 2009 and its offerings are truly state-of-the-art!  The building houses multiple offices, classrooms, an amphitheater and student workspaces, in addition to the multiple Simulation Labs (five, to be exact).

There are five simulation rooms with control booths and one-way mirrors.  The room is setup like a hospital room, complete with bed, monitors, IV poles and medical equipment.  Professors have the ability to control the "Sim Men," and can adjust their heart rate, breathing and other items.  Professors will implement various case studies for Nursing students, that get more challenging as the semester advances.  Students must properly diagnose and treat the "Sim Men."  These technologically advanced patients have heart beats, breath, can receive injections, etc.  A video tour of the Clinical Simulation Lab can located through this link.  More pictures of the labs and School of Nursing can be found on the slideshow at the bottom of the blog!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Communication Disorders Building

We recently completed our visit of the Communication Disorders building.  Our tour guide, Richard Freyman is Amanda Griffin's supervisor (a prior UMass tour guide, and current provider of our Admission Information Sessions).  I'd like to talk a little about the program itself prior to discussing our tour.

The Communication Disorders program offers Bachelor's, Master's, and Doctoral degree options.  At the undergraduate level, the program focuses on the normal processes of speech, hearing, language, and related functions.  Students can focus their concentrations on the speech and language pathology or audiology tracks, but will take courses in both.  I believe that the opportunities for undergraduate students to obtain hands-on experience on campus is what distinguishes our program from other institutions.

There are labs located in Arnold House, an item that we did not visit on our tour.  We did visit the Speech and Language Clinic, along with the Audiology Clinic in the Communication Disorders building.  The clinics are open to the public.  They provide services that can aid the offerings provided by local school systems.  Children can have remedial assistance for speech impairments through the services provided in the clinic.  You will notice in the next picture, there are multiple rooms setup, some with toys and board games.  In each room is a one-sided mirror, allowing for supervisors and classmates to observe sessions with clients and make notes.

The Communication Disorders department also has an Audiology clinic.  They provide hearing testing for clients (many times elderly patients) and can make recommendations for services.  This is another item that can be observed by students.  We learned that Hearing Aids can be ordered and fitted for clients through the clinic!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Engineering Quad

We recently visited the Engineering Quad and had a tour of the facilities with Greg Brown.  We had an opportunity to see Marston, Marcus, Gunness, and both the Engineering Lab buildings.  To be honest with you, I had a hard time keeping track of what building we were in at any given moment, as we snaked through buildings and I'm pretty sure we used some tunnels along the way.

There are six Engineering Programs at UMass Amherst: Chemical, Civil, Computer Systems, Electrical, Industrial, and Mechanical.  Each concentration has its own "home" located in the Engineering Quad (on the northern end of the campus).  We began our tour in the Gunness Student Center, an open space complete with a Coffee Shop run by our Hospitality and Tourism Management students and plenty of comfy chairs for students to gather, study, and relax between classes.

We spent some time in a space referred to affectionately as "M5," a space for Computer Systems and Electrical Engineering students to work in groups, have tutoring, and do some tinkering.  We also saw a classroom that frequently hosts remote lectures/video feeds from notable Engineering firms such as Raytheon and GE in an effort to introduce networking at an early stage in the students' careers.

In addition to the academic programs, the College of Engineering has its own Career Placement Office which regularly shares information regarding internships, co-ops, and employment opportunities.  Students can also be paired up with tutors for individual sessions whenever works with their schedule (weekends and evenings included).  There are also 18 Student Run Organizations connected to the College of Engineering!  One of the most active groups is the Society of Women Engineers along with one of the oldest Multicultural Engineering Programs in the country.

As we continued our tour, we were able to visit the "Build it, Break it" lab which is exactly what it sounds like!  Civil and Mechanical Engineering students use the lab to test the structural limitations of items including cement and steel as early as their Sophomore year. One piece of equipment was donated by the Westover Air Force Base over 10 years ago.  Students have been trying to break the equipment since then, but it's still kickin'.   Needless to say, protective eye wear and hard hats are a requirement!

Following our time in the Build it, Break it lab, we moved on to the "Human Performance Lab."  The Mechanical and Industrial Engineering departments as well as the Psychology department, has created a simulation driving environment to test situations such as: the Big Dig, Distracted Driving, Younger and Older Drivers.  There is a complete car situated close to three large screens.  The "Driver," turns on the vehicle, turns, accelerates, etc. as if he/she was driving a regular vehicle.  The image on the screen responds to the driver's commands, just like a normal driving environment.

We also learned about the Mechanical Engineering department's involvement with a Supermileage Vehicle competition called the "Eco-Marathon."  A team of students created a chassis, building gears, and modifying the cylinder.  The students manage every aspect of the project including research, design, development, construction and fundraising.  In previous years, the UMass team has achieved over 1,000 miles per gallon in the competition.  The current manager of the team was happy to meet Erika, one of our tour guides.  Their current driver has graduated and they've been on the lookout for a petite individual to replace her.  Perhaps you'll be reading about Erika's new adventures in future posts!

Did you know that UMass Engineers are storm chasers?  Neither did I until we visited the Knowles Engineering Building.  Our University is a part of the National Tornado-Chasing Experiment.  We have prepared and contributed two truck-mounted mobile Doppler radar systems that are currently deployed in Oklahoma and the Great Plains.  

A big thanks to Greg Brown for the thorough tour!  His enthusiasm was much appreciated.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Integrated Sciences Building Visit

Our recent tour of the Integrated Sciences Building with Steve Ball was incredibly informative.  Steve took us through all the inner-workings of the building (including the lower level, penthouse, and all the cool places that required special access)!  We're appreciative of Steve's willingness to share so much during our two hour tour.

First, I realized how much larger the facility was than I expected!  According to the Facilities Planning website, the current building has 155,000 gross square feet.  There were tons of labs ranging from inorganic, organic and physical chemistry, to animal sciences, and biology.  We were able to see the new well planned lab setups and equipment.  We learned that four different courses can be taught simultaneously in the labs, with 10 labs, 16 students per lab and one "hood" per person, specifically for inorganic chemistry.   We walked by one lab that had over a million dollars worth of equipment, provided through a generous donation from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (it was under lock and key of course).  We were also able to see experiments taking place on the top level with doctoral and master's level students.

In relation to classroom space, everything is state of the art.  There is a 300 seat and 85 seat lecture hall along with many smaller classrooms.  When relevant, there are hoods with a video camera enclosed, allowing for professors to perform experiments in the lecture and show their work to the students.

The green initiative was incorporated in the building's construction as much as possible.  There are no light switches in any rooms, everything is motion sensor operated.  As you can see in the lecture hall photo, the building utilizes bamboo and recycled materials for surfaces.  Natural light streams through as much of the building as wherever possible.  Steam, provided by the University's Central Heating Plant is used to heat and cool the facility.  LEED, the Leadership in Energy Efficient Design helped to approve the facility's "green factor."

I'm excited to share, that the current Integrated Sciences Building is just the beginning!  A new addition is already being constructed, and will likely be finished in the next couple of years.  This new addition will include a new lab science building and new life science facility.

A huge thanks to Steve Ball for our tour!  The Integrated Sciences Building is a fantastic addition to the University!