What the Keck is that noise? Construction on the Nucleus underway at Scripps, Pitzer

A green fence surrounds the Keck building under construction, the Nucleus.
The expansion of the Keck Science Center increases the capacity for both students and faculty alike. (Florence Pun • The Student Life)

After a groundbreaking ceremony in May 2022, construction is well underway on the Nucleus, a collaborative endeavor between Scripps College and Pitzer College to expand the W.M. Keck Science Center which currently hosts both colleges’ STEM departments.

Located on E. 9th Street at the intersection between Scripps, Pitzer and Claremont McKenna College, the 70,000 square foot addition to the Keck building will contain 14 new laboratories, collaborative spaces and a greenhouse, UJ Sofia, W.M. Keck Science Department dean of science, told TSL via email.

Set to be finished by 2024, the multimillion dollar project will allow the Keck Science classes currently taught in trailers at CMC and Pitzer to move into permanent classrooms, according to Sofia. 

The Nucleus building will connect to the current Keck Science Center by a bridge “to serve as a symbol of the bond between past and future scientific discovery,” according to a June 13 Scripps press release

The Keck Science Center will largely remain the same, though renovations will allow the department to hire more permanent faculty, according to Sofia.  

“With the updated facilities and the move to the two-college program, our faculty will have more time and space to innovate,” Sofia said. “Obvious areas for evolution include enhanced interdisciplinary offerings and experiential learning opportunities.”

Students and faculty have high hopes for the opportunities the expansion will provide.

Janet Sheung, assistant professor of physics at Keck Science, said she was personally able to design a space for an upper-division physics lab previously not offered due to the lack of an appropriate facility. 

“I cannot imagine trying to set up $100,000 of equipment in a temporary modular unit,” Sheung said.

Celine Aoki SC ’26, who is enrolled in a Keck chemistry class taught in a portable unit, voiced excitement about the new, permanent facility. 

“I think it will allow for new research opportunities and expand what students are exposed to,” Aoki said. 

With CMC set to exit Keck in 2024, Aoki expressed uneasiness about the loss of CMC students and the college’s assets. 

“I do think with the Nucleus not involving CMC students, it will limit exposure to those students’ perspectives,” she said. “I feel like it’s better to combine resources like we have with Keck, because it allows for more student interaction and more brains on a single topic, which is always super helpful.”

When CMC announced its plan to withdraw from Keck in 2018, some professors told TSL that the reason for withdrawal might be because CMC wishes to fund the sciences at a level that Scripps and Pitzer cannot afford.

In the 2020-2021 fiscal year, CMC’s endowment surpassed $1.2 billion, whereas Scripps and Pitzer’s endowments were around $540 million and $179 million, respectively, according to a TSL analysis of the college’s endowments. 

Enabled by George Roberts’ CM ’66 $140 million gift, CMC broke ground on its own sciences center on Sept. 30. 

To Sheung, CMC’s departure may let Keck move forward in new ways. 

“It’s hard to think about CMC leaving and the Nucleus as separate issues,” Sheung said. “Previous attempts at making a new building [weren’t successful] … because the three colleges could not agree on who’s contributing and how much.”

The absence of CMC in Keck Science could also mean smaller class sizes, as Sheung said that introductory classes had grown quite large. 

“The aspiration [Keck has] for what the department could be for the consortium is to be a place where interdisciplinary science can be done,” she said.

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