Sciences at Southern Get Dynamic New Home; Local Companies Help Along the Way

Students attending Southern Connecticut State University this semester are the first to use the campus’ new Academic Science & Laboratory Building, opened this fall, with local companies playing an integral role from design and construction to providing scientific equipment for the new facility. Officials say Southern's ongoing expansion of its science programs has been greatly enhanced with the construction of the 103,608-square-foot, four-level academic and laboratory science building. Situated adjacent to Jennings Hall, the existing home for the sciences on the New Haven campus, the new building extends the university’s capacity to educate more students in the STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.15_ScienceBuilding-1161-680px

The new science building also features a high-performance computing lab for research in theoretical science, bioinformatics, and computer science, two aquaria, and six rooftop telescope stations.  A collaboration between Southern and PerkinElmer, based in Massachusetts and with offices in Shelton, has also provided a boost. Equipment includes several analytical instruments to improve research capabilities and provide students with opportunities to do cutting-edge work.

Configured in the shape of an “L,” the new building works in concert with two pre-existing science buildings — Jennings and Morrill halls — to enclose a new “science enclave.” With very visible scientific displays and instrumentation inside and outside the building, the new center has quickly assumed a symbolic as well as actual role for the sciences on campus.students at sci bldg

Embracing innovative sustainable design, it houses teaching and research training laboratories for nanotechnology, physics and optics, the earth sciences, the environmental sciences, cancer research, astronomy, molecular biology and chemistry.

“Built to the latest standards in sustainability, this signature building will truly enhance our ability to foster the next generation of Connecticut scientists,” Southern president Mary A. Papazian said at last month’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The Werth Center for Marine and Coastal Studies –named in honor of the Werth family following a $3 million gift from the Werth Family Foundation -- is housed on the second floor.  The center will have several new labs, including an analytic lab (where mercury levels can be determined) and a sediment coastal science lab (where levels of sediment can be tested).

The Center for Nanotechnology will be located on the ground floor, where the laboratory space is designed to isolate the building's vibrations -- considered important when dealing with microscopic materials.  A saltwater aquaria room with a touch tank is featured in the new building, providing a “centerpiece of outreach to area schools and the community.”

science buildingThe building includes expanded wings for Earth Science, Environmental Science, Molecular Biology, Chemistry, and Physics teaching and research laboratories.  There are scientific displays throughout, illustrating the research interests of faculty and the students, including a replica of a nanotube — a focal point in the center of the building.  Rain water collection, which is being used to water the science quad and faculty garden was also integrated into the design. Designed for LEED Silver certification, many sustainable design features can be seen throughout the building’s footprint.

PerkinElmer delivered instruments and services “designed to help improve human and environmental health,” Christine Broadbridge, SCSU’s director of science, technology, engineering and math initiatives, recently told the Fairfield County Business Journal. “At Southern, we are proud to have a strong relationship with PerkinElmer, an important leader of business and science here in Connecticut.”

Ted Gresik, senior director of PerkinElmer, expressed his appreciation in being given the opportunity to work with Southern and accelerating its science through access to its innovative technologies.  At the ribbon-cutting, he said “We recognize the opportunity for Southern Connecticut State University and Perkin Elmer to work together on research, and technology initiatives toward developing programs where students can acquire a diverse set of scientific and technical skills which will facilitate a transition to career opportunities within the science industry.”

CSU2020_002Plans for the new Academic Science & Laboratory Building at Southern began back in 2007 with a comprehensive 10-year capital improvement plan, dubbed CSUS 2020, for upgrading the four institutions of the Connecticut State University System.  Approved by the state legislature and signed into law by Gov. M. Jodi Rell, the plan was developed during the administration of Chancellor David G. Carter.  It included upgrades and repairs to existing facilities, as well as construction of a new Visual & Performing Arts Center at Western Connecticut State University, which opened in September 2014, a new academic and classroom building at Central Connecticut State University, which opened two years ago, and a Fine Arts Instructional Center at Eastern Connecticut State University, scheduled to open early next year.

The Science Building at Southern was designed by Centerbrook Architect and Planners of Centerbrook, CT, with construction by FIP Construction of Farmington.  (see video about the Academic Science & Laboratory Building)

New Business Aims to Deliver Science to 8-11 Year-Olds, One Month at a Time

There’s a new Connecticut start-up launching this month, aiming to engage upper elementary school age children with the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through monthly hands-on activities delivered right to their doors.  What began as a response by two college friends to an entrepreneurial start-up challenge is now a full-fledged business, hoping to grow as it excites children ages 8-11 about the potential of the STEM fields. The business, Genius Box, delivers a “monthly STEM adventure to a subscriber’s mailbox, featuring a topic to explore and the tools to do so."  Each box will contain activities or experiments that further illustrate the topic of the month, providing hands on learning opportunities through a narrative “challenge” posed in each box.genius box  horiz

Kate Pipa and Shivangi Shah received second place at Demo Day at Northeastern University a few years ago, and “with much excitement and encouragement,” decided to launch a company based on their idea.  Next was a successful crowdfunding campaign in fall 2013, which led to initial beta testing and feedback collection, including work with students in Connecticut classrooms to obtain reactions from students and their teachers.  Earlier this year, a prototype Genius Box was provided to middle-school age participants at the Connecticut Technology Council’s annual Girls of Innovation program.

Genius Box aims to connect kids with real life examples of science, technology, engineering, and math to further the understanding of these critical subjects “in a way that resonates with upper elementary school aged children.” The topic to be explored in December’s inaugural Genius Box will be Kaleidoscopes.  The company’s website is now accepting one month, three month or six month subscriptions for the monthly deliveries.

“We are excited to staco foundersrt this new chapter,” said co-founder and CEO Kate Pipa, who lives in Shelton. “And we are excited to bring kids a new box each month of hands-on fun that also doubles as a learning opportunity and is making social impact for the kids and for our partner organizations.”

Co-founder and COO Shivangi Shah adds, “We hope that the next generation of geniuses will embrace STEM and apply it to the world around them. We want them to believe they can change the world.”

Each box includes a narrative story and activity cards to explain topic and activities in a fun, engaging way, and three or more activities and experiments in each box.  Each monthly kit is “designed in a way that puts each genius in the driver's seat to solve the challenge at hand, with minimal help from adults.”

Extending the Benefits

Pipa and Shah have also added a social benefit component to their sales. For each box sold, Genius Box Inc. will donate $1.00 to a partner nonprofit. December’s partner organization is Connecticut-based ManyMentors, which connects middle and high schools students interested in the S.T.E.M. fields with near age peer mentors via interactive, engaging workshops and a highly innovative online platform.

Genius Box is also among the first social benefit corporations in the state of Connecticut, allowing the company to pursue an expanded mission that embraces societal good along with profits.  Legislation creating the new designation was approved by the state legislature earlier this year, and took effect in October.

The company’s website explains “We want to provide an experience that inspires, encourages, and empowers kids to think big. To be curious. To experiment. To make mistakes. To explore new topics. Overall, to be the change makers and problem-solvers of tomorrow, today.”  Aiming directly at its target audience, the site invites, “Adventure on, geniuses. Your monthly mystery awaits.”

The company is currently shipping only within the United States, and offers free shipping.  More information about Genius Box is available at

Photo:  Kate Pipa and Shivangi Shah