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A high-tech makeover for venerable Packard

The P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science is home to some of the world’s most advanced technical research. Its faculty and students achieve breakthroughs in optical technologies, nanotechnology, bioengineering and a host of other areas.

But until recently, the college’s lobby did little to inform visitors of the cutting-edge teaching and research taking place in the college’s classrooms and labs.

Instead, visitors to the lobby were greeted by a glass showcase containing the world’s first Packard automobile, which was manufactured in 1899 by James Ward Packard, an 1884 Lehigh engineering alumnus.

Today, “Old Number One,” as it is affectionately called, still sits on display in Packard Laboratory. And the lobby’s stone walls, stone columns and ornate coffered ceiling still hearken to a bygone era.

But the rest of the lobby has been given a high-tech makeover that befits the college’s reputation as a leader in the science and technology revolution.

Interactive displays

The lobby’s new look was formally unveiled on Feb. 5, and will be dedicated next fall. The look will feature new light fixtures and a fresh paint job, both of which highlight the beauty of the lobby’s walls and brighten its interior space.

But the cornerstone of the transformation is a bronze and glass “media wall” designed by CICADA Architectural/Planning Inc. of Philadelphia with help from the engineering college’s design and marketing group and Lehigh’s facilities services and campus planning office.

Visitors entering the lobby will be able to see interactive display cases enclosed by liquid crystal glass—a technology pioneered by another Lehigh engineering alumnus. They can learn about the engineering college from three touch-screen monitors stocked with ever-changing content and from a large plasma screen that they can activate with hand gestures.

“Old Number One” sits adjacent to the media wall, but its features have been highlighted by a new bronze mirror, and a video about its history can be played by operating a fourth touch-screen monitor.

Mohamed El-Aasser, dean of the engineering college, says the changes to the Packard Lab lobby symbolize the college’s vision for the future while reaffirming its commitment to the values and traditions that have made it one of the nation’s most highly regarded engineering schools.

“I think this media wall offers a dynamic window into the research, scholarship and leadership that our college strives to nurture,” says El-Aasser, who “greets” lobby visitors in a video message on the wall.

“At the same time, the wall provides an attractive, state-of-the-art setting for Old Number One and thus underscores our commitment to the timeless values that sustain and enrich the Lehigh engineering program.”

Still evolving

Specific features of the lobby’s new look include:

• Seven “lab cams” in engineering laboratories around Lehigh send footage back to the Media Wall.
• A video, photo, and timeline presentation that accompanies Old Number One.
• Video profiles of 16 engineering faculty that can be viewed on a 50-inch plasma screen. Users can operate the screen merely by making body movements; no mouse, keyboard, or touchscreen technology is needed.
• An interactive event calendar that visitors can browse through. It also features news articles and a news archive.
• An animated “avatar” that welcomes each visitor.
• A guided tour “Innovations in Structural Systems,” an exhibit about Lehigh structural research.
• Special content for students that includes a profile titled “What is an Engineer?”

“The media wall installation is expected to grow and evolve with contributions from users,” says Cheryl Harris, director of marketing and web communications for the engineering college, who oversaw the changes to the lobby.

“We are encouraging users to send us their suggestions and to contribute content to the wall,” Harris says. Comments can be e-mailed to feedback@lehigh.edu.

--Kurt Pfitzer

Posted on Wednesday, February 04, 2004

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