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Physics Plans New Center

Renovations Will Unite Department

By Diana S. Cheng


Several offices and research groups belonging to the Department of Physics may be on the move under a plan by the department to renovate several buildings and create the Green Center for Physics.

MIT’s Departments of Physics and Materials Science and Engineering are swapping spaces for headquarters and offices in buildings 4, 6, and 8 over the next few years, in an effort to consolidate departmental spaces.

Currently, the physics department occupies space in buildings 4, 6, and 8, and the Materials Science department has offices in buildings 6, 8, 26, and along the Infinite Corridor.

Professor Marc A. Kastner, head of the physics department, said the purpose of the renovations would be to bring the department’s academic and research offices together.

The divide between the department’s headquarters and education office creates “a false separation of education and research activities” that can be addressed by moving the offices closer together in the new Green Center, Kastner said.

Renovations include exchanging the headquarters of the physics department, which is on the first floor of building 6, and the materials science department headquarters on the fourth floor of the same building. The new Green Center will house the department’s headquarters, the Center for Theoretical Physics, education offices, seminar rooms, and undergraduate and graduate labs, Kastner said. The Center will also house the physics reading room, whose current location in building 26 will be used for the Technology Enabled Active Learning program.

Professor Subra Suresh, head of the department of materials science, said that the renovations will be an “even exchange: there is no net gain or loss [of space].” He said that faculty in both departments voted on and approved of the planned changes, and that the renovations will “tie in” with overall departmental goals. Among other improvements that will take place, the materials science department will renovate and add to its labs on the Infinite Corridor.

Physics graduate student Gaetano Bertoldi, who is part of the Center for Theoretical Physics (CTP) in building 6, said he hoped that “the new physics reading room will be even better than what we have now,” and he anticipated “new office spaces” with “nicer rooms.” He felt the relocations would be beneficial to the Condensed Matter Theory (CMT) graduate students who “need more office space than [CTP students] do.”

Dru Renner G, another CTP student, believes that the changes are “definitely better for the physics department” because it is “really spread out.” He thinks the “neatest idea” is for the two theoretical physics groups, CTP and CMT, to be in one area, because it allows for “intellectual consultation.”

Still, said Renner, “losing the physics reading room is a big concern.” He said that the relocated physics reading room, which Kastner said “probably won’t be as large as the old space,” will have “no windows and not all of the books and journals” as the reading room has now. The new temporary reading room will be on the third floor of building 4 past the student common area.

Though the time needed to implement the changes will be “hard to predict,” Suresh remains enthusiastic about the swap with the physics department. He said that a faculty committees in both departments considered three different architectural firms and have already chosen one.

“Plans are moving along,” he said.

Rima Arnaout and Naveen Sunkavally contributed to the reporting of this story.