The renovation was completed on schedule in the fall of 1995. The product was a building that retained the character of the original structure (albeit with new energy conserving windows, upgraded utilities, a new heating and cooling system, and a service elevator), while meeting the needs of the Mechanical Engineering Department today and well into the 21st century. Accomplishing the latter task required extensive reorganization of existing facilities and the creation of new spaces. This reorganization included the clustering of all faculty offices by area of interest into three suites on the first and second floors, and the relocation of the main department offices to the southwest corner of the building. In addition, several research areas received expanded facilities.The Center for Holographic Studies and Laser Technology, for example, now conducts research and education in areas ranging from fundamental studies of laser light interaction with materials to sophisticated applications in micromechanics and mechatronics in 10 new state-of-the-art, climate-controlled laboratories. Its activities are internationally recognized in this field.
A suite of bioengineering laboratories, for work in biomechanics, biomaterials and rehabilitation engineering, was created on the first floor, supporting faculty and graduate student research and student projects in these fields. The Richard A. Lufkin Fluid Dynamics and Thermal Processes Laboratories, on the lower level and third floor, include facilities (such as a water tunnel and a wind tunnel) for work in thermo-fluids, hydrodynamics, fluid mechanics, heat transfer and microgravity studies. A remodeled and expanded lab on the lower level will support work in vibrations and controls.
Some of the most exciting spaces in the new Higgins Laboratories were created specifically for education. They include the lecture hall on the first floor, rebuilt as a multimedia classroom complete with video projection facilities. The Heald Discovery Classroom on the second level is a showcase of modern educational technology. A computer network makes it possible for students to take part in interactive class lessons. A large video screen is equipped with telecommunications and video link capabilities. When it is not being used for classes, the room is available to students who wish to explore self-paced computer learning modules. Adjacent to the Discovery Classroom is the W.M. Keck Design Center, the heart of a new approach to teaching engineering (an approach WPI is exploring as the lead institution in a five-university consortium funded by an $8.7 million grant from the federal Technology Reinvestment Program). The center's components are the Computer Laboratory, where students use personal computers and computer-aided design software to learn the techniques of modern design; the Computer Simulation Laboratory, a general purpose microcomputer lab for work in modern dynamic and geometric simulation techniques; and the Higgins Design Studio, where students can use high-end workstations and video link facilities to design and remotely manufacture prototype products - discussing their work in real time with remote sponsors and watching their designs produced on remote rapid prototyping facilities. In the Design Center, students can apply what they learn in the classroom by making real products, just as students did generations ago in the Washburn Shops.
Two new rooms answer the department's need for dedicated space for student project work. On the third floor is a laboratory for work on smaller projects that do not require extensive space or specialized support facilities. Occupying more than 2,000 square feet on the lower level is a general-purpose lab for work on larger Major Qualifying Projects. Room is available for assembling, testing and storing large machines and devices. The lab has ready access to the department's machine shop, with its team of technicians and instructors.
George C. Gordon Library