NMMU unveils new facilities custom-made for science students

MARCH 2, 2016

THREE state-of-the-art lecture theatres – including a plush circular 250-seater auditorium – have opened for science students at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

The three venues, which collectively seat 420 students, make up the ground floor of NMMU’s new R56m Science Building on South Campus. The first and second floor include two new laboratories, equipped with the latest microscopes and audio-visual equipment, seating 60 and 180 students, respectively.

“This building is part of new university infrastructure worth over R200 million that has been in the process of being developed over the past couple of years,” said NMMU Infrastructure Projects Director Greg Ducie.

The design of the science building – and the many green features it includes – was inspired by science buildings at universities in the United Kingdom and the United States, and has been adapted for an African environment.  

The lecture facilities opened in the last week of February – and the rest of the building, which includes office space, a conference room, and an airy function venue, will open in March.

The auditorium – a high-ceilinged, fully-enclosed circular structure, which is the focal structure of the building – has comfortable seats and fold-down desks, and is fully equipped with leading-edge audio-visual equipment, including visualisers (the modern-day equivalent of overhead projectors), and a hearing loop to accommodate students with hearing disabilities.

While most of the building is cooled through natural ventilation, the lecture venues and labs have tempered air-conditioning on timers.

Motion sensor lights in the bathrooms, corridors and other open areas ensure a responsible use of electricity, while natural light floods through the massive glass doors and windows, connecting the building with its environment.

The entire back wall of the building, facing west and looking into the on-campus nature reserve, is “fritted glass”. These include large panes dotted with ceramic paint (in a unique pattern, resembling a science molecule), which reflects heat.

“This reduces heat gain, and also reduces the heat transfer to inside the building,” said NMMU Project Manager Graham Gouws.

“We saw this at a university in Minneapolis, United States and incorporated it into the design. By opting for the fritted glass, we were able to omit the louvered system [in the original design]. The fritted glass is much more efficient and saved us about R250,000.”

Like the lecture venues, each laboratory is also fitted with a visualiser as well as several large screens, to enable all students to see the samples being presented by the lecturer at the main front desk. Most of the small storage cupboards in the laboratories are on wheels, so they can be moved away from the desk areas to accommodate additional students, if needs be.

“These labs are more flexible than NMMU’s existing labs, where everything is fixed,” said Gouws.

Large windows ensure the labs are open and airy. “There is an element of engagement with the outside – people can see into the labs.”

Next to the top-floor laboratory, there is a 20-seater computer lab along with an additional 20-seater “write-up” space on the opposite side, where students can plug in their laptops.

On the second floor, there is unique oval function area – half inside and half on a verandah outside, connected by large glass double-doors.

The conference room on the same floor includes a large television for Skype meetings or video conference calls.

The molecular theme from the fritted glass continues in the design of the built-in desk of the dean’s secretary.

Wi-Fi is available throughout the building.