Classes begin inside new UW-Madison chemistry building

MADISON, Wis. — Students returning to class for the spring semester last week at the University of Wisconsin-Madison were greeted with a new academic building at the heart of campus.

Classes have since begun inside the new nine-story tower of the Chemistry Building at the corner of University Avenue and North Mills Street. Work on the more than $130 million project began in the fall of 2018.

The old building had significant space constraints and its dated design contributed to delays in students being able to take core classes, Robert McMahon, a chemistry professor and the co-chair of the Chemistry Facilities Committee, said.

“The need for the building has grown from the tremendous growth in enrollment that the chemistry department has experienced over the last 25 years,” he said.

The old building was built in an era before computers and lab equipment that has become commonplace today were in use. Now, the building has been designed with that gear in mind.

Also featured in the new building are glass writing spaces in lieu of chalkboards and separate write-up rooms adjacent to labs so students have a place to work in groups to analyze lab data. Those features coincide with a rethinking of the department’s curriculum to include more active learning, McMahon said.

The new building addresses a need not just for those studying chemistry but students in a variety of science, engineering, technology and math majors, he added. The previous enrollment crunch forced numerous students to look outside UW-Madison to take core classes.

“Twenty percent of all the UW-Madison students that took (the organic chemistry lab) course actually took the equivalent course at a different institution because we could not accommodate the enrollment requirements,” McMahon said, “so now we can serve the student population on the campus. These are some of the largest courses on the campus – the general chemistry courses – and half of all freshmen are enrolled in a chemistry class.”