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operational laboratory in the chemical and biological engineering department
April 11, 2024

Laboratory construction brings constructive learning

Written By: Claire Massey


student welds pieces of metal together
Kyle Hanauska works on welding pieces for the external structure and handrails.

For two years the new instructional lab and pilot plant for the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering has been under construction. Named the John C. Kuetemeyer Instructional Laboratory and the Donald E. Baldovin Process Operations Laboratory, not only will the new spaces provide a better learning experience, but new equipment will provide students with more opportunities for research and experimentation.

Developing the design and the mind

Even before its grand opening in late April, this lab is already a step ahead on student education. Seniors Avery Richardson and Kyle Hanauska and recent graduate Rishi Mandyam have been gaining invaluable knowledge by working on the operations lab’s design and assembling various equipment for the lab.

control panel for laboratory
Custom control panel

With help from the students, Eric Codner, a faculty associate in the department, designed a custom layout for the operations laboratory, including the main control panel for the equipment. A big challenge with this means that Codner and his team need to create the main structure from scratch.

“I was a part of the design process for the external structure surrounding the column and it’s quite interesting. A lot of the decisions have to be made on the fly when you’re building to make sure things work out. Sometimes you realize part of the structure is in the way or a certain part is not fitting like it said so you have to improvise,” says Mandyam.

Currently, the students are working on constructing the main structure which includes the stairs, handrails and frames for the equipment. Once that’s complete, the next steps are hanging and mounting equipment and then installing plumbing and electrical.

Richardson has enjoyed her time working on the distillation columns and has gained a deeper understanding in part because of her work on the lab. “When you get to know all the different components behind the science it can really make it easier to understand it and help piece it all together,” she says.

New equipment equips students with extra opportunities
student works on construction of external structure for laboratory equipment
Avery Richardson adds bolts to external frame.

Once it’s assembled, the distillation column—made possible by the generosity of Gerald Battist (BsChE ’62)—can provide a huge learning opportunity for students. Mandyam comments, “having access to this equipment will provide students with a practical application to the theoretical problems they learn in class.  A lot of students go into the industry after college and will have to work with distillation columns, so this equipment makes sure that the experience is not completely new when they start their jobs.”

The rest of the seniors taking Summer Lab, which will be hosted in the new instructional laboratory this year, should expect a more open space as well as a variety of new equipment to help with their education. Those interested in plastics and polymers, can learn how to use the new polymer extruder. This machine prints 3D plastics from naturally derived sugars, such as lactose, paving the way for creating biodegradable plastics without the use of oil. Students can also quickly detect different components in a mixture with a new gas chromatograph which analyzes organic mixtures. For other samples, a new digital microscope provides elemental analysis and can analyze a single point and provide the composition of the sample.

Codner hopes the new analytic capabilities and learning opportunities, it will inspire more undergraduates to pursue research as well as help current research groups with their work.

To read more about the early planning and start of lab renovations, check out Planning underway to overhaul CBE lab space in Engineering Hall and Undergraduate lab renovation kicks off, but still needs alumni support.

Featured image: Construction for external structures and equipment is ongoing in the Donald E. Baldovin Process Operations Laboratory.

Photo credit: Claire Massey