Late building, fire, break-in, faulty fire alarm: problems beset new Chemistry labs

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Difficulties have plagued the opening of the Oxford University Chemistry Department’s new teaching labs which were supposed to be fully functional by the time students arrived at the beginning of Michaelmas.  These problems include the late delivery of the building in addition to a “small fire and break-in”, The Oxford Student can reveal.

According to the Chemistry Department website, “the new state-of-the-art teaching labs will provide new space for undergraduates in a fully-accessible building.  The two main labs are spread over two floors, each with space for up to 100 students.  There is also a large seminar room equipped with the latest audio-visual equipment, write-up areas and a bright and welcoming reception area.

“Each floor has its own dedicated prep room and across the corridor from the second and third year lab is a large furnace room and analytical suite which will house over £2M worth of equipment for undergraduate use.”

At the start of term the second-year Chemists were informed that the labs would not be ready for use so all computational labs would be concentrated in Michaelmas.  A University spokesperson told The Oxford Student: “There is no question of having to catch up missed labs later, and students will be timetabled into labs next term as normal.  Students were informed of this in the induction at the start of term”.

However, one second-year Chemist told The Oxford Student that the situation is “definitely up in the air at the moment. I don’t really know what my lab schedule will be past the end of this term.

“They’ve tried to reassure us that we’ll definitely get the lab hours required for a degree no matter what but not so much in terms of when exactly they will be”.

Third-years have also experienced lab cancellations due to a faulty fire alarm system in the CTL. In an email seen by The Oxford Student, the Chemistry department informed third-years: “Because of continuing problems with the fire alarm system in the CTL, the decision has been taken to close the practical labs to undergraduates on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday next week. This is in addition to the closures on Thursday and Friday of this week. Practical work for third years will recommence on Thursday 8th November. You will all appreciate that this decision has been taken to ensure the safety of all staff and students who work in the CTL.”

A University spokesperson explained that third-years “have been given detailed instructions on how to obtain credit for missed experiments.”

The delays have been due to the late delivery of the building which meant “there was not time to train demonstrators and technicians on the new equipment before the start of term, and so the second-year lab course has been reorganised so that all the computational exercises, which would normally be spread over the whole year, are concentrated into this term, and the practical labs next term.

“While there have been a few unexpected problems including a small fire and break-in, these were not significant and we expect the labs to reopen fully on Thursday 9 November. There have been no significant difficulties in procuring equipment and the new teaching labs are probably the best equipped teaching labs in the UK at the moment.”