A Brief History of Science at Rollins

Science has been an integral part of Rollins since the College first opened in 1885.

(Photos courtesy of Rollins Archives and Special Collections)

Science has been an integral part of Rollins since the College first opened in 1885. Our graduates include a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and professors of physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics.

Here we pay tribute to Rollins’ rich history of science education.

(Photos courtesy of Rollins Archives and Special Collections)

1885

Rollins College opens on November 4.

Scientific instruments consisted of a ruler and a thermometer.

1888

Students were given two options for academics: the classical course or the scientific course.

According to the catalogue, “The study of Astronomy will be rendered more interesting and profitable by the recent gift to the College of a Clark’s Telescope of five-inch object glass.”

(Photos courtesy of Rollins Archives and Special Collections)

Professor of Science Eva J. Root teaches an astronomy class. 

(Photos courtesy of Rollins Archives and Special Collections)

1909

Knowles Hall burns down.

Dedicated on March 9, 1886, Knowles Hall was the first college building completed on the campus and the first building devoted to college purposes in the state of Florida. 

(Photos courtesy of Rollins Archives and Special Collections)

It was destroyed by fire on December 2, 1909, at which time it contained the chapel, eight recitation rooms, the business school apartments, and all of the College’s scientific instruments—including the telescope—and specimens.

(Photos courtesy of Rollins Archives and Special Collections)

According to The Sandspur, “The greatest loss was that of Dr. [Thomas R.] Baker, for not only the science apparatus but much of his personal property and collections representing the work of 30 years were destroyed.”

(Photos courtesy of Rollins Archives and Special Collections)

1911

Knowles Hall II is built as “a classroom building for natural sciences.”

Dedicated on March 9, Knowles Hall II housed laboratories, classrooms, and faculty offices for the chemistry, physics, and biology departments. It also housed the College’s chapel until Knowles Memorial Chapel was built in 1932.

(Photos courtesy of Rollins Archives and Special Collections)

Dedication of the new science hall.

(Photos courtesy of Rollins Archives and Special Collections)

1931

Students discover the remains of a mammoth on Florida’s east coast.

In 1931, the brother of student Thelma Van Buskirk ’33 found a mastodon tooth and tusk near the coastal town of Flagler Beach. Members of the College’s Explorers Club returned to the site and were digging in a muck trench when they discovered a submerged large bone. Jack Connery ’35 reached his hand around the bone and into a cavity, from which he drew out a chert arrowhead with a broken point. The bone was a mammoth’s lower jaw that contained two teeth. This finding preceded the major 1973 archaeological discovery by Charles A. Hoffman, an anthropologist at Northern Arizona University, that conclusively proved for the first time that prehistoric man and animals lived together on the Florida peninsula more than 12,000 years ago.

(Photos courtesy of Rollins Archives and Special Collections)

1939

The Thomas R. Baker Museum of Natural History moves off campus.

The museum, started by Baker before it was initially destroyed in the Knowles Hall fire, moved to the Aloma Country Club largely due to the growth of its collection. The museum specialized in Florida animal and plant life, as well as Indian culture and fossils, and included extensive shell and insect collections. According to a Sandspur article from May 10, 1939, “The collection of dragonflies in particular has attracted interest among specialists throughout the eastern United States.”

(Photos courtesy of Rollins Archives and Special Collections)

1951

Knowles Hall II is rededicated.

Frances Knowles Warren donated $71,000 for the building to be completely renovated with new equipment and an emphasis on science facilities. During the dedication, Paul A. Vestal commented, “My colleagues and I believe that our branches of science as subjects dedicated to the discovery and humanization of truth can, with the humanities, accelerate man’s evolution toward intellectual enlightenment and spiritual refinement.”

(Photos courtesy of Rollins Archives and Special Collections)

1961

The National Science Foundation lends support.

Rollins received a $23,500 grant—the first of several consecutive institutional grants—from the National Science Foundation. As a result, faculty participated in 18 summer research projects, including studies related to atomic isotope shift programs, field ion microscopy, and organic chemistry.

(Photos courtesy of Rollins Archives and Special Collections)

1969

The Archibald Granville Bush Science Center opens its doors.

The $3.5 million response to Central Florida’s need for a state-of-the-art home for science, the Archibald Granville Bush Science Center was named after a former Rollins trustee whose financial support made it possible. The 91,519-square-foot building had three floors, providing teaching facilities and laboratories for biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and student research. The Center also featured an electronics service center, an herbarium, a 15,000-volume library, a glassblowing room, an X-ray diffraction room, and a lead-shielded room for radioisotopes.

(Photos courtesy of Rollins Archives and Special Collections)

A liquid scintillation spectromoeter demonstration

(Photos courtesy of Rollins Archives and Special Collections)

1971

An attempt is made to destroy the Bush Science Center.

The culprit placed a candle three feet from a gas jet used to fuel Bunsen burners, which would have resulted in an explosion if a maintenance worker hadn’t stopped by the lab. According to The Sandspur, “As yet a motive for the crime has not been found, though a test was scheduled for that room for Monday morning.”

(Photos courtesy of Rollins Archives and Special Collections)

1987

Alumnus Donald Cram ’41 receives the Nobel Prize for chemistry.

For his work in host-guest chemistry, a field he helped create, Cram received the Nobel Prize, the 1993 National Medal of Science, and was ranked among the 75 most important chemists of the past 75 years by Chemical & Engineering News in 1998. Cram was the first graduate of a Florida university to receive a Nobel Prize.

1994

The first student-faculty research project begins.

Chemistry professors Erich Blossey and Pedro Bernal began the first student-faculty research project. This formed the basis of the Student-Faculty Collaborative Scholarship Program that officially started in 2000, which now includes more than 400 students working in partnership with 86 faculty conducting research in everything from art to physics.

2004

President Lewis Duncan becomes the first Rollins president with a science background.

A renowned space physicist, Lewis Duncan conducted research at the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center in Puerto Rico, worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and served as dean of engineering at Dartmouth College prior to becoming the president of Rollins College.

(Photo by Scott Cook)

2013

The Bush Science Center is redesigned and expanded.

The 103,580-square-foot science center, made possible by a gift from the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation, is now the largest building at Rollins. It has four floors and includes 51 offices, 15 classrooms, 34 labs, and 18 student/faculty lounges. “The science center’s dynamic, interdisciplinary spaces create an atmosphere of scientific discovery and will allow us to keep pace with the emerging technology of the 21st century,” President Lewis Duncan says.