Science Building 2 to replace 40-year-old fume hoods

On Nov. 9, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development John Fernandez made a much-anticipated visit to Portland State’s campus.

On Nov. 9, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development John Fernandez made a much-anticipated visit to Portland State’s campus. During the visit, Fernandez announced that Science Building 2 is the recipient of a $1.26 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), a bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Although the announcement was made only a couple weeks ago, plans regarding the manner in which to spend the grant money have been in the works since April of 2009, according to Paul Mortimer, associate dean for development in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Science Building 2, already undergoing major renovation construction, will soon be fitted with new top-of-the-line fume hoods, purchased with money from the grant.

According to Mortimer, fume hoods are an essential element of the equipment in the teaching and research laboratories of Science Building 2.

Niles Lehman, professor and chair for the Department of Chemistry, said that a fume hood is basically a laboratory “box” that sucks air out of an enclosed space and into a filter. The air is then discharged safely outside of the building.

“If you are working with a noxious chemical, for example, you [wouldn’t] want to breathe the fumes of the chemical,” Lehman said. “We were in desperate need of [new fume hoods].”

The fume hoods that are in Science Building 2 were installed when the building was first built in the late 1960s.

According to Lehman, the old fume hoods are outdated and not very efficient.

“They are really old…they don’t work half the time…and there are not enough of them,” he said. “We can’t teach certain classes, and we can’t do certain kinds of research.”

The new fume hoods are much better designed, Lehman said.

The modern technology, adjustable functions and the lesser energy needs of the new fume hoods make this a much more proficient mechanism than the fume hoods of the past, according to Mortimer. 

“This more efficient technology will dramatically decrease energy use [in the building],” Mortimer said.

Coupled with the other energy improvements of the Science Building 2 renovation, these new hoods will help save PSU about $300,000 a year.

“[Those are] more dollars that we can invest towards education,” Mortimer said.

Now that replacement hoods are becoming a reality, the labs of Science Building 2 will be much more accessible for students and researchers.

“[These new fume hoods] are going to increase our capacity to teach and conduct research for years to come, and this equipment will serve tens of thousands of students,” Mortimer explained. “[The grant is] a great recognition of the economic role that PSU is playing in our region, and [providing a means to better] prepare students to go out and get the best jobs they can.”

According to Lehman, this is exactly why the EDA granted PSU the $1.26 million.

“Their whole mission is to provide money that will help get people jobs, and better jobs,” Lehman said.  “If we have better facilities, then students get trained better. If they get trained better, then they’re more likely to get a [good] job.”

Mortimer is also pleased with the longevity of use an investment like this will provide students at PSU.

“This equipment will last for 30 or 40 years,” he said. “And it will serve tens of thousands of students…it’s very satisfying to me to know that this equipment will be working and serving students long after I’m retired.”

Mortimer estimates that there are currently about 3,500 students per year taking classes in the teaching laboratories of Science Building 2.

“And there will be more [students] as enrollment continues to grow,” Mortimer said. “So we’re just really, really pleased with this investment.”

This is not the first time the EDA has been involved with PSU. According to Mortimer, this is the third important grant PSU has been awarded by the EDA in the last two months.

In September, the EDA announced a $1 million grant to the winners of the i6 Challenge, a competition that promotes ideas for technology commercialization and entrepreneurship.

The winner for the Northwest area was The Oregon Innovation Cluster of which PSU is an important part, Mortimer said. 

Another $495,000 was awarded to develop the triple-bottom-line index for Economic Development Assessment, an idea piloted by Janet Hammer of PSU’s College of Urban and Public Affairs.

Even with this recent monetary award given to Science Building 2, PSU will still have to foot some of the bill. According to Mortimer, the EDA will purchase half of the fume hoods. PSU has already purchased and installed the other half.

Fume hoods are “pretty specialized pieces of equipment” and can take around 10 weeks to manufacture, Mortimer said.

Lehman said that, although the second wave of fume hoods have been ordered, they will not be arriving at PSU for at least a few months. He believes students will most likely see the remaining hoods installed during winter term, but he was not aware of a specific deadline.

“We’re [all] very excited about the work that’s being done in Science Building 2, and about this grant from the Economic Development Administration,” Mortimer said. “It’s going to make things better for decades to come. I’m very proud and pleased that we were able to put that investment in place.” ?