This fall at the University of Illinois, students studying plant and soil sciences are the first to experience a state-of-the-art laboratory in Turner Hall. Transforming the lab originally built for students in 1963 into a 21st century learning environment has been accomplished through a recently announced $1 million pledge from the Monsanto Company.

Vice President for Global Plant Breeding at Monsanto Samuel Eathington said, “As a 1990 and 1995 graduate from the University of Illinois, I’m excited about this partnership between Monsanto and the University. I remember that as an undergraduate, I dedicated a year in the Turner Hall soil labs helping to prepare material for other classes. This transformation is a key step to continue the legacy of success for future leaders in science and agriculture by providing students with the most advanced learning facilities available.”    

Gone are the fixed lab benches, overbuilt cabinetry, and outdated technology of the mid-1900s science classroom. The new soil science lab is a flexible space that features reconfigurable furniture, a unique 20-foot writable glass teaching surface, and integrated technology, making it an up-to-date learning environment.

Illinois Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson says the revitalized facility will have an immediate and direct impact. “This gift is helping us transform another of our learning environments in a way that reflects cutting-edge research science in this century. Investments such as this allow us to attract the best students in the world – students who will graduate and become the next generation of leading soil and crop scientists.”

Austin Happel, a doctoral student with a teaching assistantship in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, taught classes in the lab before and after the renovation. “There were no computers or projection equipment in the old space but in the new lab space I can put instructions up on monitors directly where students are working on labs,” he said. “It will be exciting to see what lab materials are added to the current course now that the lab space allows for more advanced experiments that will really aide in students’ understanding of the important characteristics of soils.”

Each year hundreds of undergraduate students who are pursuing a broad range of soil science programs will directly benefit from the use of the soil science lab. Used primarily as a teaching lab, the space will facilitate the study of soil science, natural resources, and other subjects by students in the Departments of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, Crop Sciences, Technical Systems Management, and Agricultural and Biological Engineering.

“New paradigms in education and methods of analysis have dramatically changed teaching and research in soil science and crop improvement. This newly renovated lab fulfills the expectations of ACES students and faculty for a modern educational experience,” said Robert Hauser, dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

Turner Hall is named for Jonathan Baldwin Turner who was instrumental in establishing the University of Illinois and the Morrill Act, which created land grant universities. The Turner Hall Transformation Project is renovating all teaching laboratories and classrooms in Turner Hall. The project has met 80 percent of its fundraising goal of $5 million. These private gifts help leverage campus-based funding, now totaling an additional $16 million, bringing the total costs of renovating classrooms and teaching labs to benefit ACES students to $21 million.