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Science I takes shape

Thursday, 7 September 2017 4:19pm

The redeveloped and the under-development … A contractor uses the temporary entrance to the new Mellor Laboratories, with the redevelopment of the remainder of the Science 1 Building visible in background.

Work is progressing on the final phase of the $56m refurbishment of the University of Otago’s Science I building – the most visible sign is a new pop-out extension from the first and second floors to house offices.

That eastern end of the building will house a second flexible “super-lab” for 112 students that includes iPads at each lab station and the latest scientific equipment, University Campus Development Division Project Manager Christian German says.

Lockers with technology

The ground floor will also have a breakout space with 232 student lockers, each with a USB port for charging phones, a power socket and LED lighting.

Students will swipe their student ID cards at the locker terminal to be allocated a free locker – when they remove their belongings, the locker can be reassigned.


A three-storey atrium will also create a more user-friendly link between the Science I building – on the corner of Cumberland Street North and Union Place – and the Science II building.

The Head of the Department of Chemistry Professor Lyall Hanton says it will not just be a thoroughfare but will provide an excellent gathering and social space for the building.

Best for the best

The first floor of the Science I building is where Leighs Construction will build environmental and chemical oceanography research laboratories designed for the specialist research undertaken by a team recognised as the best Chemical Oceanographic group in the world.

This team received the Prime Minister’s Science prize in 2011.


Mr German says the other facilities on the first floor will be:

  • A trace elements lab
  • A postgraduate write-up area
  • Meeting rooms
  • Offices

The second floor will contain:

  • Second- and third-year chemistry teaching laboratories
  • A small computer-aided learning laboratory
  • A 50-person seminar room with audio-visual links for distance learners

All the refurbishment work should be completed in February, apart from some specialist components for the trace elements lab that are arriving in March, Mr German says.

Done and dusted

New … the exterior of the Mellor Laboratories with the silver-coloured model of the Laurenene compound (right) and the grey vertical wall that will be covered in plants.

The first major phase of the development – at the western end of Science I – was finished earlier this year and named the Mellor Laboratories, after noted 1898 Otago graduate Joseph William Mellor.

More floor-by-floor

The ground floor of that part of the building has:

  • The other “super-lab” for 112 first-year students, which can be divided in two
  • A small chemistry outreach laboratory
  • Offices for Teaching Fellows

The first floor houses:

  • First-year chemistry teaching laboratories
  • Human Nutrition space for teaching, research and consultancy
  • A student breakout space

The second floor contains:

  • Second- and third-year chemistry teaching laboratories
  • A dietetic room
  • A chemistry write-up area
  • A student breakout space

A temporary portacom laboratory has been created for staff and students relocated during the project.

Giant step for science

Completed already … Department of Chemistry Professor Lyall Hanton in front of a new laboratory.

Professor Hanton says the new labs are “a quantum leap forward” in laboratory technology from the former labs – which were built in the 1970s – especially in the senior laboratories where a lot more modern fume cupboards have been installed.

The new equipment also means teachers no longer have to compete with the noise of running water — it is silently vacuumed away and recycled.


Professor Hanton did not know "they could turn this ugly old building into this real swan”.

“It was wonderful when I came here in the early-1970s as an undergraduate because the building was only a few years old. I did my PhD at Cambridge from 1977 through to 1981 and have been here since, so [the building] is like your old, favourite jersey – you wear it so often you don’t realise it’s unfashionable and frayed, or full of holes.”

But now the revamped area is “designer chic”.

He hopes having stunning new laboratory space that allows the latest chemistry techniques to be taught will inspire more students to do postgraduate research.

“Everyone associated with the project – from Campus Development, the project managers Octa Associates, the architects (Parker Warburton Team Architects with Lab-Works Architecture), and Leigh’s construction and their subcontractors – have been wonderful to work with and they have all done a marvellous job to complete on time.”

The future … An illustration of the vertical gardens that will cover parts of the exterior of the building.

New gateway

Professor Hanton is looking forward to work on the eastern end of the Science I building being completed by February next year.

One of the last things to be completed will be the “dressing” of the entrance with a three-storey molecular network as the gateway to the Sciences Division.

“It is wonderful the project has provided this chemical ‘bling,’ Professor Hanton says.

The backstory

Mr German says completing that stage involved Leigh’s Construction stripping the 47-year-old building back to its bare-bones and rebuilding it, while adding a new air-handling system, new windows, a new roof and new exterior cladding, that will include “living walls” of ivy.

And aspects of the building – including lighting – can be controlled from off-site, using smart technology, Mr German says.

Those new facilities complement the refurbishment of the first floor of the adjoining Science II building by Leighs Construction last year. It is home to new Laser Laboratories, chemistry Trace Elements Clean Rooms, and the biophysical chemistry Jameson Laboratory.

Unique shape

The new, lit-up molecule structure on the exterior of Science I is an artist's impression of Laurenene, which was discovered by Otago PhD chemistry student Denis Lauren in 1970. Laurenene is an extraction from the rimu tree and has a unique chemical structure: four rings sharing a central carbon atom.

What is in a name?

Joseph William Mellor.

Science I is now named the Mellor Laboratories to honour 1898 graduate Joseph William Mellor who made an important contribution to the course of World War 1 by developing ceramic refractories, used in steel production, for Britain.

He was only the second person elected to the Royal Society for ceramic-related work, after 18th-century pottery magnate Josiah Wedgwood.

Mellor also completed an unparalleled contribution to scientific literature by writing a 16-volume, 16-million word Comprehensive Treatise on inorganic chemistry.