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Designing science and building excellence

By Karolina M. Mukhtar, Ph.D.
  • August 06, 2021

“As I stroll down memory lane, I can’t think of a better spot to break ground for the new UAB Science and Engineering Complex – a place where research and education will flourish in unison for generations of current and future UAB students to come.”

Karolina Mukhtar sstanding at the construction site of the new building, a pile of red dirt behind her. It’s a usual, busy morning on University Boulevard as I’m driving to work. Heavy traffic, last-second lane changes, some guy stalls at the green light, people honk. A huge dump truck abruptly pulls in front of me. “This is just great,” I think as the light changes to red and now I’m stuck for another two minutes. I gaze around campus and suddenly my mind takes me on a trip back in time…

I vividly remember my job interview at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, a mild spring day in 2010. I was walking along University Boulevard, trying to keep pace with a few of my future departmental colleagues excitedly showing me the brand new Heritage Hall building and the Rec Center. Looking over the campus skyline, I realize in amazement how much has changed in a decade. It is an incredible feeling to be a part of a dynamic, growing, modern campus.

Back to the present day… the light turns green and the dump truck turns onto 13th Street South, headed towards the former site of the Education Building. Suddenly, I realize that I’m smiling. “Oh, that’s right,” I think to myself. “The trucks, the construction, we’re building the new Science and Engineering Complex!”

I spontaneously turn on my indicator and follow the dump truck as it pulls into the now largely flat lot. Staring in awe at the impressive demolition, I can’t help but remember the great times I had bonding with my students in the classrooms of the Education Building, service learning workshops at the Vulcan Materials Academic Success Center (VMASC), and late afternoon Faculty Senate Curriculum Committee meetings at the Center for Teaching and Learning conference room. So much learning, collaboration, and growth happened in this space over the past nearly five decades. As I stroll down memory lane, I can’t think of a better spot to break ground for the new UAB Science and Engineering Complex – a place where research and education will flourish in unison for generations of current and future UAB students to come.

Spatial intelligence is not my strong suit. It takes me some effort, but, while looking at the construction site, I finally manage to properly orient and picture the majestic L-shaped building I know only from computer renderings and cartoon animations in the real-life space. The shorter wing with windows overlooking the Sterne Library and a gorgeous new courtyard will house the chemistry and physics teaching labs as well as the biology wet lab research facilities. The longer wing along 14th Street South will be the new home to all of the biology instructional laboratories as well as office space for the departments of Biology and Physics.

I was fortunate to be a part of the planning and design process of the Science and Engineering Complex from its earliest steps, beginning in Fall 2018. I still remember our initial meetings with the architects’ team of Lord Aeck Sargent, the Atlanta-based firm that provided the initial design blueprints and later served as lab and research spaces consultants for this project. Through a combination of their vast experience working with the end-users and truly angelic patience, they skillfully guided us through the design process, asking about our unique needs and priorities and making superb recommendations along the way. Thanks to them—and the equally remarkable team of architects from Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood—we have achieved the perfect balance of modern, functional, efficient, collaborative, and environmentally friendly. It will be a building that will be known as a crown jewel of the UAB research and education enterprise, and it will be a magnet for excellent students and world-class faculty. It will be the place where tomorrow’s STEM leaders will be trained.

My little detour is over as I’m finally pulling into the parking lot behind Campbell Hall and walking into my laboratory. I know I speak for the departments of Biology, Physics, and Chemistry when I say we’re all beyond excited for the move into the new, cutting-edge instructional and research space. We cannot wait to start teaching our students in world-class instructional laboratories and developing exceptional hands-on undergraduate research experiences for them. With its fluid space, making insular labs a historical artifact, the three basic science departments in the College of Arts and Sciences will be able to substantially expand their research operations, win additional research funding, retain existing talent, and attract the best faculty hires. The unity will weave a social fabric that supports interactions and interdisciplinary projects. My own laboratory will gain access to a modern, state-of-the-art plant growth and culture facility, one that never existed on campus before. The much-awaited move into a new building finally feels real. And while I’m waiting for the big day in Fall 2023, I won’t side-eye those construction trucks anymore. Let’s pardon our progress while we’re building excellence. Go Blazers!


Karolina M. Mukhtar, Ph.D., is an associate professor, associate chair, and undergraduate program director in the UAB Department of Biology. The groundbreaking of the UAB Science and Engineering Complex will be held on September 9, 2021, at 10:00 a.m. Learn more about the new building at uab.edu/cas/building.