24 Hours in the Science Center
Humphrey Chen ’26 spent 24 consecutive hours in Amherst’s illustrious Science Center, sleeping, eating, showering, and observing. Here, he reports on what he learned, and narrates the chemistry brewing within the building.
The Science Center commands attention. Brusque, bronze rods complement cascades of sterile glass sheets. The building’s 250,000 square feet sink into and envelop the earth, warping the surrounding greenery in its state-of-the-art insulation, sustainable ventilation network, and other expensive-sounding technologies. With a constant exchange of students from its stupidly heavy iron doors, the Science Center feels as though it breathes, and watches.
Also of note: The Science Center is open 24 hours, seven days a week.
I want to get my tuition’s worth from Amherst College, which means taking full advantage of the available facilities. So, I made the only rational decision: I spent a full, 24-hour day within the Science Center’s hallowed walls. In these 24 hours, what will the Science Center show us? When we dig a bit deeper, piercing its thin veneer of productivity, what can we expect? Is the Science Center shy? Is she flirty? How does she accommodate professors, students, events, or times of day?
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s set the rules for this 24-hour SCCE lock-in.
- I must spend at least 24 hours consecutively inside the Science Center.
- No exceptions. Even if I catch a brain clot and ACEMS Director of Operations Liam Arce ’24 is at the door, cut me open on the Q-Center desk: I don’t care.
- All meals must be sourced from the Science Center.
- Managing Features Editor Sonia Chajet Wides ’25 can bring food in a pinch.
Location: James Residence Hall
Oh my god, I forgot to pack last night.
Do I need three pairs of underwear?
I packed my suitcase with the essentials: cat plushie, fuzzy blanket, half my sock collection, etc. Already late for my 10:00 am biology lecture, I stopped by Val for breakfast before I’d need to hunt, gather, and forage for my remaining meals.
11 a.m.: The Challenge Begins!
Location: Science Center
The first major hurdle was securely storing my luggage. I did not want to lug a suitcase, shower caddy and all, from lecture to lab. After a little scouring, I found the perfect, concealed spot beneath the stairs of the second floor biology lounge. Challenger: 1, SCCE: 0.
Next, I ran to bio office hours with Associate Professor of Biology, and department chair, Alexandra Purdy.
Interview with classmate Ani Graf ’24, and Professor Purdy:
Humphrey: As a professor and researcher, how does the Science Center accommodate your needs?
Professor Purdy: I have been really happy with the spaces I’ve been in. We've got a nice and separate space for working with bacteria. We collaborated with the architects when they were designing, so we were able to design TBL [team-based learning] classrooms to our specifications
Humphrey: Wait, like the floor-to-ceiling white boards?
Professor Purdy: Yes, absolutely. How the space feels, and how space is used is just, is really, really incredible.
Humphrey: Ani, do you like the TBL structure with everyone, like, clamoring at the whiteboards?
Ani: Oh, yeah. I think in theory it’s a really great thing because everyone would be collaborating. TBL’s a real-life skill since there’s always a different group dynamic.
Humphrey: I do have a question about the bio lounges. Did you have a hand in designing that space?
Professor Purdy: No, no. That’s the architects. They came up with the idea of the spiral staircase and we loved that.
Ani: We could totally — for Halloween or something — make it look like a DNA double helix.
Professor Purdy: Gosh. Yeah, we should totally do that.
Ani: We can have a little DNA staircase.
Professor Purdy: That would be great. Oh my goodness.
Ani: I’m just walking up the helix.
Professor Purdy: The biologists are gonna freak out.
The Val breakfast from this morning was waning and I could feel hunger’s thick tendrils gripping onto my inconsolable appetite. Girl, I was starving. I first walked along the perimeter of the first floor, hoping to find a sandwich platter or hot food buffet of some sort. Tough luck. As I contemplated dumpster diving, they caught my eye: honey packets. The Science Center condiment booth houses these complimentary plastic sleeves of honey. After three hearty packets, I felt revived. Bag secured. Hunger quenched. Challenge slayed (so far).
2:00 to 4:45 p.m.
Biology lab! Live, laugh, love Professor Kristensen and Professor Bowers, our Biology Lab Coordinators.
One of the Science Center’s jewels is the office of Assistant Professor of Biology Mona Wu Orr. In a post-challenge interview, Professor Wu Orr described the Covid-era SCCE as “an apocalyptic movie. There’s this beautiful biology research facility, and so, you know, in a beautiful bio research facility where no one’s around except for one person, that means the zombies are coming or like the dinosaurs are coming. I’m gonna die.” To fend off the undead hordes, Professor Wu Orr flooded her room with a fuzzy rug, matching mint green microwave and fridge, full-length fainting couch, a Home Depot’s supply of house plants, and an aquatic tank laden with snails and White Cloud Mountain minnows.
The SCCE is constructed for students, designed with an emphasis on academia and collaboration. Therefore, professors often shoulder the responsibility in developing spaces for us to not be students; the fainting couch, for example, is an open resource for Wu Orr’s thesis writers.
I happened to pass by Professor Katerina Ragkousi, a biology researcher with hot takes on the SCCE labs.
Humphrey: Professor Ragkousi, can you explain a bit more about why you don’t necessarily love the Science Center laboratories?
Professor Ragkousi: Although we get a lot of light, sometimes we need dark rooms for light-sensitive experiments. Now, we’re taking cardboard boxes to cover our tissue. However, I really appreciate the collaboration aspect. It’s spiritually … motivational to see other people working at the same time with you.
Humphrey: That’s really interesting. I guess if you had to redesign -– if you had a magic wand, what would you fix?
Professor Ragkousi: I would make the lab spaces a little bit more segmented so that you can control the environment by turning off the light, isolating your group, or changing the temperature. Also the sound can be a little problematic. Sometimes it’s difficult to quietly discuss an experiment.
Humphrey: The echo. Oh yeah, I can hear all the gossip. It’s crazy.
Professor Ragkousi: Oh, so this is not good.
6 p.m.: A Chat With a Veteran
It was time to settle down and find a spot to work. The Science Center has a few key study locations: third floor desk towards the right wall, second floor study cage, and if you’re a bit of an exhibitionist, the first floor works great as well. As I was hunting for my quiet corner of the SCCE, I saw Liam Arce (L-Dog for short), the aforementioned ACEMS director of operations; he was also my head TA for the January ACEMS training course! From word on the street, Liam has experience with Science Center sleepovers.
A walking interview along the first and second floor. This man refused to stand still.
Humphrey: So, Hannah Kim ’25 tells us that you’ve spent 24 hours in the Science Center previously. Elaborate.
Liam: So, yeah, it’s happened a couple times during finals season, and I’ll probably show up around 4:00 p.m. the day before the final and then study until I have to actually take it at 7:00 p.m. the next day.
Humphrey: The next day?
Liam: Yeah, the next day. You know, the cafe vending machine, DoorDash, that’ll get you through it. I also did this when I did EMS over the summer in Holyoke. There were certain days where I would either crash in a random dorm that wasn’t occupied or I would come here and sleep.
Humphrey: An unoccupied dorm on campus?
Humphrey: So you’d break and enter.
Liam: I wouldn’t say that. It was wide open, so there wasn’t much breaking going on.
Humphrey: OK, fair.
Liam: I live far away and when I was [lower ranked in ACEMS], I didn’t have the car. I didn’t wanna walk back to Newport at like five in the morning. So, I would just kinda sleep here and go to class in the morning.
Humphrey: So have you had any weird looks, midnight interactions, janitors poking you to see if you’re alive?
Liam: I have gotten to know a couple of the janitors more because I’ve found time to talk to them. That’s definitely given me a heightened appreciation for the work they do that is often unrecognized. Some weird looks from professors; I’ve had a couple professors be like, “Hey, you OK?” And I’ll be like, “Yep.”
Liam: If I bump into somebody at five in the morning here as a student, I would say it’s more of a — definitely not a weird look — mutual look of mutual understanding.
Humphrey: Have you showered in the basement?
Liam: I have actually, yes.
Humphrey: Wow. For you, the Science Center is at the intersection of work, play, and life. How does that translate as a student?
Liam: I think the older I’ve gotten, the more people I’ve come to know personally here and I, I consider that a great benefit. And most of it is through ACEMS these days. You know, like you and your whole cohort.
Humphrey: Honestly, this feels like a living room.
Liam: Yeah. Basically. I’m not getting a ton of work done because I can’t walk more than 5 meters without bumping into somebody I know. You know, this interview’s a great example, not that I’m complaining. I’m very happy to speak to you about it.
Humphrey: He says as he flips me off.
Liam: I did not flip him off.
Liam: I think back and I just never would have thought how many fond or painful memories I’d have in this building over the subsequent few years. So it’s just one aspect of Amherst that I’ll miss, but it’s definitely a sizable one, especially academically. So, yeah.
Humphrey: You can take L-Dog out of the Science Center, but you can’t take the Science Center out of L-Dog. Thank you, Liam.
The honey packets were losing this fight against my grumbling, rumbling, free-falling, tummy. It was time for a trip to the cafe.
8 p.m.: Mayo Mishap
Location: Science Center Cafe
Interview with student employee Isabel Gomez ’25 and, fatefully, a character you might remember from earlier.
Humphrey: Can you please list your name and class year?
Isabel: Isabel Gomez ’25. Whoa, Jonathan, not too much. He’s going crazy on this sriracha mayo.
Humphrey: Wait, is that Professor Purdy’s [sandwich]?
[Professor Purdy waves from line]
Isabel: Yes, that is Professor Purdy’s. Don’t, no, no, please. Hold on. He put too much sauce, mayo, on it.
Professor Purdy: Oh my God. Hello.
Isabel: Sorry, are you getting something?
Humphrey: Can I actually get a West Coast wrap please.
Isabel: Yeah, definitely. Regular or veggie? Veggie is beans and egg.
Humphrey: Ooh, regular, please. The cafe feels like a completely different atmosphere from the overall academic space. What is it like to study out there, then step inside for work?
Isabel: I think to be out there, they definitely are distinct worlds, but people pass through both. No matter where you are, especially if you’re trying to survive anywhere on campus, you’ll meet people you know.
Humphrey: What’s your favorite thing about anything Science Center, anything cafe-related?
Isabel: Let me think. My favorite thing… I like going to the really high floors and looking down at everybody below and looking outside to the whole, the whole campus.
Humphrey: Oh, that’s so nice.
9 p.m.: Science Center Bathroom Appreciation
The SCCE bathrooms are a different breed. The clean ceramic hardware beautifully contrasts a backsplash of modern, webbed tile. The toilets themselves are the perfect height, ensuring comfort whether one sits tippy-toed or flat-footed. As you leave, the quiet smirk you share with the following occupant is one of triumph yet intense guilt. Incredible.
The Science Center sleeping culture is widely understood and appreciated. Often, one can find comatose corpses face-planted on the first floor couches. The chemistry and biology lounges are practically reserved for drowsy, drained STEM students. Anyone who frequents the SCCE likely recognizes themselves in these crusty-eyed nap-takers, establishing this community of mutual acknowledgement. However, reliable long-term sleeping surfaces are hard to come by. The difficulty was in crafting a comfortable bed that could evade early classes and nosy professors. Behold, my inventions below: “operating table” (left) “bean” (right).
11 p.m.: Veggie Tales: One Mammoth’s Encounter with Fate
Isabel’s lovely West Coast wrap had since met its fate in the third floor restroom. My stomach began its sharp musing for sustenance, the honey packet supply quickly dwindling. With the cafe closed, I resigned myself to a peckish night. But — I would soon learn — the Science Center faithfully rewards those patient devotees. Bordering Lipton lecture hall lay a moderately fresh platter of raw vegetables, lukewarm hummus, and a small chalice of white chocolate cookies.
Around 12 a.m., a few friends who accompanied me on the challenge itched for some fun. The Science Center itself is perfectly designed for hide-and-seek, hallway gymnastics; personally, my favorite activity is dropping little eraser bits from the third floor and seeing if people notice. However, one of my fellow challengers Allison Houn ’26 was hoping for a little makeover…
So I pierced her ear.
The process was rather simple:
- Sanitize needles and earrings.
- Mark earlobe with pen.
- Numb ear with ice from chemistry hallway.
- Pierce with needle.
- Leave needle to rest for 15 minutes.
- Replace with piercing.
Video transcript from E-202 with Allison Houn ’26, Julianne Woodward ’26, and Delaynie Holton ’26:
Allison: AH, GOD, DON’T F — ING TOUCH ME, JESUS
Humphrey: Oh, oh, OK, hey, don’t worry, it’ll be over so soon.
Allison: It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts.
Humphrey: Just give me one min — OK, it’s almost through.
Julianne: Allison, you’re squeezing my hand super hard.
Delaynie: That’s a lot of blood
Humphrey: OK! It’s through!
Allison: Oh, it’s kind of cute.
1:00 to 2:45 a.m.: Lament in Limerick
I worked nearly two whole hours
When I noticed my scent: quite sour
Feeling odd and grimy,
(Perhaps from the broccoli?)
Yup, I needed a shower
Any SCCE bathroom fanatic agrees that the two best facilities are in the basement physics wing. These restrooms excel on every metric: counter space, cleanliness, availability, and comfort. Their key aspect, however, are fully functioning showers. I had emotionally prepared myself for cold, murky water and dysfunctional faucets. Oh, was I mistaken. The shower comes equipped with an overhead rainforest-esque spout, which provides incredible coverage alone; however the hand-held shower wand doubles as a second faucet, assembling this cascade of high-pressure, perfectly temperature-controlled water. I felt so expensive.
4:00 to 7:00 a.m.
It was so empty. I expected a handful of overworked premed students, huddling near the Q-Center in some occult ritual to restore their GPAs. However, I only saw Kenny Kim ’25, grinding for an “Organic Chemistry” test the following morning. The stillness was beautiful. In the afternoon, as crowds wrestle through its corridors, the Science Center responds, matching the buzz through automated curtains, humming equipment, and cafe toaster oven dings. At 4 a.m., though, everything stops. You see yourself reflected against the night, projected onto panels of sheeted glass. Take in the enormity of the Science Center, how it was crafted with you in mind and functions for you in service.
Fun fact! The curtains are controlled by internal building temperature. When it gets too cold, the curtains roll up and allow sunlight to warm the room. Wowza.
8:00 to 10:00 a.m.
I deserved a little power nap.
OK, I’m late for psych.
As I was preparing to leave, I saw Isabel’s point about the SCCE view. The Science Center is a place of work. From the third floor, you peer down onto a sea of bowed heads, some bent into frustrated slumps, aggressively typing away. But if you look straight ahead, it’s beautiful. Against the rolling hills, speckled with winding cement stairs, the warm sky fades from this tender blue to burnt orange. It’s awkward how the Stearns Steeple peeks behind these funny, looping slopes of green. A little bit to the right there’s Keefe, with students trickling in and out, Grab-n-Go hauls in hand. Like ants on a hill they collect in small, migrating clumps. There’s a quiet momentum at the Science Center. You’re viewing all of this, all of Amherst from reinforced stainless steel. But, I don’t think that diminishes any of it. It’s only from seeing something so warm from somewhere so far, that you can understand all of it so well. The Science Center is a petri dish of Amherst’s stressed, broken, and bright. It’s also a viewing gallery for our community: the veggie platters, shared cups of coffee, mid-afternoon naps, fainting couches, tear stains against lab notebooks, eye-bags, eureka moments…
It even welcomes the occasional sleep-over.
Let’s get tf home.