UMSL students show the equipment in a newly renovated science lab to Peabody Energy representatives. Pictured (from left) are Varun Bhan, Sandra Van Trease, Ashley Temple, Patrick Nittler and Sharon Fiehler. A gift from Peabody Energy funded the renovation. (Photo by August Jennewein)

A newly renovated science lab at the University of Missouri–St. Louis is drawing rave reviews from students after undergoing an upgrade courtesy of a gift from St. Louis-based Peabody Energy.

The Peabody Energy Physics Laboratory, located on the third floor of Benton Hall, was created in an unused room. Audio-visual gear was upgraded. Workstations now include interfaced computers so students can collect, analyze and display data. Rows of long, narrow worktables were replaced with a more cozy work area, bringing the students and instructor closer together.

“I love the upgrades,” said Varun Bhan, a senior in biology. “They’re really helpful in class in how information is presented. It’s a lot clearer, especially with the SMART board.”

Prior to its installation, instructors used a classic chalkboard. Bhan said the new technology makes the lab go a lot smoother and efficiently.

“It’s a good improvement,” said Patrick Nittler, a sophomore studying biology. “It’s nice that we have new space and that we’re keeping up with technology. “

“I love it!” said an enthusiastic Ashley Temple, a junior biology major, of the new spacious lab.

Ron Yasbin, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at UMSL, is also a fan of the layout.

“We want them to talk to each other, and Peabody has enabled us to do that,” he said.

Representatives from Peabody Energy got a firsthand look at the outcome of the coal company’s gift when they toured the space on Oct. 29 following a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Sharon Fiehler, executive vice president and chief administrative officer and UMSL alumna, was impressed with what she saw.

“Building a stronger, safer, healthier and better educated community is good for all of us. We were so happy to be able to participate in this,” said Fiehler, who graduated from UMSL in 1984 with an MBA. She was accompanied by fellow UMSL alumna Sandra Van Trease (BSBA 1982), group president of BJC HealthCare and a member of Peabody Energy’s board of directors.

Both spent time speaking with students and hearing how appreciative they were for the modernized learning environment.

The Peabody Energy Physics Laboratory is used for introductory physics classes for all chemistry, biology, engineering, math and computer science, and physics majors. Currently, about 200 students use it a week.

“The renovation brings our student experience up into the 21st century,” said Bernard Feldman, professor and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UMSL and associate dean of the University of Missouri–St. Louis/Washington University in St. Louis Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program.

Peabody Energy’s gift of $750,000 will also be used to create an environmental sciences lab on the third floor of Stadler Hall. The financial infusion will create the Peabody Environmental Engineering Laboratory, which will enable the biology department to add a course to the program – one in applied environmental studies.

The renovated space will be equipped with many new tools for students, including microscopes, one or two DNA sequence analyzers and a half dozen or so polymerase chain reaction machines, which allows scientists to identify a piece of DNA and make many copies of it so it can be studied in the future.

Peabody’s major gift was the final one booked toward the Gateway for Greatness Campaign. The seven-year effort attracted more than $154 million in private funding.

Myra Lopez

Myra Lopez