Jorgensen hall debuts on UNL campus

Photo Jorgensen Hall is a new building on the UNL campus in the fall of 2010.

Story and Photo by Danielle Beebe

This fall students can enjoy new carpet smells, comfortable lounge spaces, and elegantly displayed antique physics and astronomy equipment inside the brand new, environmentally friendly Jorgensen Hall on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus.

Jorgensen Hall is a 125,000 square foot building on the corner of 16th and W streets that houses the physics and astronomy departments at UNL. It was named after distinguished former UNL professor and department chair Theodore “Ted” Jorgensen, who, among many accomplishments, witnessed the first atomic bomb test as part of the Manhattan Project.

Jorgensen Hall was built to address the maintenance issues with the three aging buildings that previously housed the departments: Ferguson Hall, Brace Hall and Behlen Hall.

Ferguson Hall has since been demolished and will be used as a commemorative plaza. Brace Hall, which is more than 100 years old, and Behlen Hall will continue to house some physics and astronomy labs and classrooms.

“A building that old wasn’t initially wired, so everything else has been an add-on or a patch,” said Dan Claes, physics department chair and professor of physics and astronomy.

In the past, physics and astronomy faculty members experienced difficulties controlling the classroom environment. Things such as bad plumbing and temperature fluctuations often hindered class experiments.

“Some experiments you simply can’t do when the temperature of a room changes from 72 to 85 degrees in a day,” said Roger Kirby, professor of physics and astronomy. Kirby, who was department chair from 1995 to 2007, was instrumental in the planning of Jorgensen Hall.

“In the old building where my office was, during the winter the temperature would go up to 90 degrees,” Kirby said.

“The thing the [Jorgensen Hall] building will be able to offer us will be some stability, water pressure, power; things like that that fluctuated a lot in the old building,” Claes said.

In addition to the less-than-desirable working conditions in the old buildings, the department offices were spread out among the buildings. Faculty that often had to confer with each other had to shuttle back and forth between the buildings, an issue that is now solved with the new centralized building.

The students are also already reaping the benefits of the new $37 million-facility, which houses two lecture halls, four teaching labs, eight classrooms, and offices for faculty and graduate students.

“I think it’s incredible,” student Scott Thraen said of Jorgensen Hall. “This atmosphere is really cool to study in.” Thraen said his only complaint was that the chairs in the lecture hall may be too comfortable.

Ted Weidner, assistant vice chancellor for facilities management and planning, said the new building helps the students because they get to see both physics and astronomy faculty in one location.

The state-funded building is also expected to be a recruitment tool for physics and astronomy majors, graduate students and teachers.

“We show the support of the state and the university for our department by just showcasing the building,” Claes said. “That’s a strong message for the faculty we’re trying to attract.”

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