At first glance, you might think the BASF Sustainable Living Laboratory in LSU’s Patrick F. Taylor Hall was a hip restaurant or boutique — if you didn’t notice the lab equipment.
The front wall is all glass and there are high-definition LED monitors along the bright, orange-painted walls, providing a unique environment that will allow students to take on the challenges of providing resources to the world’s population and also promote careers in engineering and science to high school students.
LSU and BASF formally unveiled the sustainability laboratory Thursday.
Tom Yura, senior vice president and general manager of BASF’s Geismar plant, said the lab fits in with the $55 million renovation of Patrick F. Taylor Hall, which turned the engineering building into a showplace for students. BASF committed $1 million toward building the sustainability lab in 2014.
“How do you inspire students and the community and get them excited about how to explore fields in science?” Yura said. “You drive curiosity and let people see young women, young men working in a lab space like this.”
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A mix of undergraduate and doctoral students work in the lab. Because the lab was set up as an outreach for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, three local high school students and a sixth-grader are also doing research in the facility.
One of the things students in the lab are working on is how to use sunlight to kill viruses. Kevin McPeak, resident researcher with the sustainable living lab, said the goal is to speed up water treatment in undeveloped areas of the world by using surfaces that produce hydrogen peroxide when exposed to visible light.
“In a very rural environment, what do you have at your own hands?” McPeak said. “You have sunlight.”
Judy Wornat, head of the LSU College of Engineering, said the sustainable living lab is a “new page” in terms of what BASF is doing to support research programs at universities. It worked out because of the major expansions going on at Patrick F. Taylor Hall and at the company’s Geismar plant.
Low natural gas prices triggered major expansions at BASF and other south Louisiana chemical plants. That triggered a need for more engineers and caused more students to look at careers in the industry. Wornat said more than 100 students earned bachelor’s degrees in chemical engineering from LSU last year, the largest class ever. “In the chemical engineering department, student enrollment doubled over a seven-year period,” she said. And major companies need mechanical, civil and electrical engineers to work in their plants.
LSU President F. King Alexander said the sustainable living lab epitomizes exactly what the university wants: to have a place where industry brings real-life problems for students to tackle on a daily basis.
“This is a showcase of creating solutions,” he said. “It will have an intergenerational impact for years to come.”