A written tour of the O’Brien Centre for Science

Image Credit: Ciara O Brien

Tatyana Sinaisky takes us North, South, East and West through the heart of science study and research in UCD.

“Your first lecture will be in the O’Brien Centre for Science,” It all sounds pretty straightforward, right? Then you see the size of the building and feel daunted. It seems impossible to find anything but this is not the case. This place, like science, it’s a puzzle; with the right formula, you’ll know your way around in no time.

Stroll in through the double doors of the East entrance facing the lake. On your left is the Moore Auditorium. On your right, marked on the wall, are the names of people who helped to contribute to the O’Brien Centre we have today. Behind this wall is the Pi restaurant, a warzone at 1pm as everybody fights to get a good seat. Coupled with the restaurant is the Assembly, a quirky food stall serving different foods from all types of cultures each week (some argue ramen week is top, others say its burrito week). Near the entrance of Pi, you’ll find Nico’s, home to arguably the best hot chocolate on campus. If you want extra marshmallows, you have but to ask. 

The real centrepiece of Science East is the staircase, inspired by the design of a double helix. It climbs resolutely up to the fourth floor where you are met with a view of the ocean, and to top it all off, a grand piano. If you arrive early enough on campus, you might be lucky enough to hear some beautiful melodies echoing through the building. In a world of theories and principles, the arts still find a way to maintain their place.

The School of Biology and Environmental Science and the School Biomedical and Molecular Science are situated on this floor. Research up here is currently focused on bacteria to produce valuable compounds from waste materials, according to a member of staff. A quick step down to the third floor will find the Centre for Data Research and down again another level holds the biology labs which stretch along the right corridor, and the classrooms run down the left. 

The heart of the O’Brien Centre is known as the ‘Hub’. Most likely, every UCD science student will have a lecture in this area at some stage, whether it is on the first floor in the Icon, Lynch, or Intel Theatre or the second floor in the Elan, O’Connor, or Accenture Theatre. These lecture halls can accommodate well over 200 students. On a Monday morning, you risk becoming hypothermic in one of these rooms due to lack of activity and heating over the weekend, but this is balanced with Friday afternoons when the heat becomes unbearable. There’s no natural lighting in these theatres, so don’t be surprised if you come out of a lecture feeling like a vampire. Also, note that you’re in the right room before your lecture starts as they all look relatively similar and many a student has wandered into the wrong one.

From the first floor of the Hub, you can go left to Science South, or continue straight into Science West. Science South is the location of the School of Chemistry and by the ground floor entrance there is a display of commonly used equipment in chemistry laboratories, coupled with a nostalgic photo of first year UCD chemistry students back in February of 1970. On the first floor you will arrive at the physical chemistry labs. and round another two sets of stairs up to the third floor you’ll find the Synthetic Chemistry labs where the research centres around nanomaterials, catalysts, and synthesis of molecules. The second floor of Science South is home to the Institute of Food and Health, who recently partnered with Food for Health Ireland to examine the impact of long-term consumption of melted cheddar on cardiometabolic health. Here’s hoping for good news cheese lovers!  

Should you end up in Science West, you will find the School of Earth Science, who work closely with the school of Biology and Environmental Science. This is one of the older parts of the building, but it still retains its charm. On the second floor you will find displays of taxidermy mounts, ranging from tadpoles to the skeletal head of a crocodilian. Some will be fascinated; others may prefer to stay away. 

From Science East, step out into the courtyard facing the restaurant for a breath of fresh air before turning right to Science North. You’re greeted with an homage to Sheila Tinney, the first Irish female to receive a PhD in maths. Pass the lifts to go right through the double doors into the School of Mathematics and Statistics where research posters line the wall, applying solutions to everyday life such as weather forecasting and market investments. Above the ground floor, physics labs are scattered across from the staircase. In the opposite corridor, you’ll find that the left-hand wall is lined with a brief overview of physics since the 15th Century. Wander up another level to view stunning images of astronomical objects, such as the Orion Nebula and the ‘Ghost of Jupiter’ that you can appreciate their beauty regardless of your physics knowledge. I invite you to explore the O’Brien Centre for Science yourselves in the future and discover what it has to offer.