Pomona's Millikan to Undergo Renovation

Faculty and students in the mathematics and physics departments are currently collaborating on the design plans for the new Millikan Laboratory at Pomona College, and although they may have had their points of disagreement—whiteboards or blackboards?—the result seems to be embraced by all.

“It’s going to be a signature building,” said Bob Robinson, Assistant Vice President and Director of Facilities and Campus Services.

Although the math, physics, and astronomy departments will be housed in portables on South Campus for the next year or two, they will move back into a brand new Millikan, complete with a colloquium space, a “physics playground,” and more sunlight for all.

The college hopes to hire a contractor by February and begin demolition this summer, Robinson said. He said that math and physics classes will take place in portables south of Mudd-Blaisdell Residence Hall during the construction, which will take approximately 18 to 24 months.

“It’s going to be a really cool building,” said Gillian Grindstaff PO ’14, a math major who is on a student-faculty design committee that has been working with the architect since January 2012 to finalize plans for the building. “It’s going to be a lot better than the Millikan we have now. For example, there will be things like windows.”

She explained that as it is now, Millikan has small windows that let in little sunlight. The new building will have larger windows, and light will filter to the first floor through cutouts in the second floor.

She said that these cutouts will also help connect the second floor, which houses the math department, to the first floor, where the physics and astronomy departments will be.

“A lot of what went into thinking about the building was that aspect of social engineering, trying to foster interactions and encounters between people,” she said.

The plans also include an atrium at the entryway, a large classroom that the departments will share, and a shared colloquium room, said Claire Dickey PO ’14, a physics major who is also on the design committee.

In designing the colloquium room, Grindstaff said the departments had to balance different goals.

She said that the math department wanted to use the colloquium space, as the name suggests, to host speakers in a formal setting.

The physics department has an additional role in mind, Dickey said.

“It’s really important to us that we get some kind of catwalk or beam up on the top so that we can do our cool demonstrations, have people swinging on giant pendula or dropping things,” she said.

In the end, the departments were able to collaborate.

“I think we reached a pretty good compromise, and I think it’ll look really cool,” Grindstaff said.

A new courtyard to the north of the building will also double as a “physics playground” with a variety of swings, whisper dishes, and other equipment, Dickey said.

For astronomy students, the plans include a green roof atop the colloquium room where telescopes can be positioned, and the building’s planetarium will be relocated to the corner of the building, at Sixth Street and College Avenue, so that its domed roof will be visible from the outside.

“That will really make a nice statement to the community, that this is where we look at stars and do calculations,” math professor and department chair Ami Radunskaya said.

The math and physics departments will also each have rooms in the new building that are tailored to their specific needs.

Math classrooms will have desks that can be easily moved around and put together so that students can do collaborative work during class and at mentor sessions that take place in the evening, Grindstaff said.

“Flexibility is something we thought about a lot,” she said.

Radunskaya said that rooms will be fitted with video cameras, allowing professors to easily tape their lectures if they wish to post them online.

There will also be a room devoted to senior thesis and summer research, said Katrina Jacobs PO ’15, a student liaison to the math department who has been involved with the planning. The room will have moveable blackboards and personal lockers.

For the physics department, updating the lab space is a priority, Dickey said.

“There’s definitely a lot of thought and time that’s been put into making sure that the labs don’t just fit the way we do physics right now but will hopefully fit the ways we do physics and how we teach in 50 years,” Dickey said.

Both floors will also include more lounge space, Jacobs said.

When it comes to writing surfaces, the departments do have their own opinions.

“Physics likes whiteboards; math loathes whiteboards,” Grindstaff said. “It’s partly tradition. I prefer chalkboards because they feel better ... I think a lot of people just get used to the feeling of chalk in their hand when they’re writing.”

Dickey has a different opinion.

“Chalkboards make ugly sounds; they’re messier,” she said. “I guess I just got started early on the whiteboards.”

She said that for the most part, the first floor will have whiteboards and the second floor will have blackboards. When it comes to shared rooms, she said the architects offered to incorporate both surfaces, but the departments have come to a compromise.

“It hasn’t stalled the process in any way,” Dickey said.