Quick Questions: What Controls the Science Center Shades?

Staff writer Neil Kapur ’25 investigates one of the Science Center’s greatest mysteries — when, why, and how the building’s shades descend.

Quick Questions: What Controls the Science Center Shades?
The Science Center’s shades reflect a greater trend of sustainability in the building. Photo courtesy of Amherst College.

Many of us have been there — you’re sitting somewhere in the Science Center, engrossed in your work, when suddenly, you hear a faint hum coming from above. You look up and see the window shades inching their way down until the sun is out of sight. You never know when or for what reason this mysterious phenomenon occurs. I took it upon myself to seek out someone who could shed some light on this matter, speaking to HVAC Technician-Science Center Specialist Kyle Mangini.

The shades in the Science Center close for a reason that is actually quite subtle. According to Mangini, there are light sensors on various sides of the building that measure the glare on the glass from sunlight. To prevent this light from getting into your eyes, the shades close when the sun is directly shining into the windows, allowing you to work more comfortably. Moreover, in the summer, this automation helps keep the building cool.

If this information was not enlightening enough, consider a final fun fact from Administrative Director of the Science Center Jess Martin: the shade fabric in the Science Center is crafted from recycled water bottles, a fact she learned from the building’s architects.

Hopefully, this investigation illuminates an intriguing automation and provides a newfound appreciation for the subtle choices made when designing this important part of campus.