UNL opens new biological engineering lab named for Swarts family

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The lab on East Campus provides the same equipment as professional labs.

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln opened a new biological engineering teaching lab designed with undergraduate students in mind. Located in Chase Hall on East Campus, the lab gives students access to the latest science equipment and features found in many of today’s professional labs.

The $300,000 lab was made possible with a private donation to the University of Nebraska Foundation and UNL allocations. In recognition of a $150,000 leadership gift toward its construction from Carol Swarts, M.D., of Seattle, Wash., the university named the lab the Swarts Family Biological Engineering Teaching Lab.

The 1,000-square-foot lab dramatically improves student learning and experiences, said Angela K. Pannier, Ph.D., biomedical engineer and assistant professor in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering.

“We are so honored by Dr. Swarts’ gift and grateful for her generosity, which has enabled us to build a state-of-the art teaching lab for use in our biological engineering courses,” Pannier said. “Hands-on learning is so vital to any undergraduate education, but especially so with engineering.”

The gift from Swarts also benefits the university’s current fundraising initiative, the Campaign for Nebraska: Unlimited Possibilities, and its goals to increase private support for academic programs and students.

The Swarts Family Lab will be used by undergraduate students for a variety of courses and projects within the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, including subjects in biological materials, biomedical engineering, biomaterials, agricultural engineering, tissue engineering and more. The lab will also be used for senior level capstone engineering design projects.

A Nebraska native who grew up in the Sandhills, Swarts graduated from the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Medicine in 1959 and is a radiation oncologist. Because of family support she received to pursue a career in medicine, she named the lab in honor of her parents and brothers.

“My dream for this lab is that it gives undergraduate students the opportunity to extend beyond the norm, to find a good life, to discover a passion for what they do,” Swarts said. “I expect it to attract those exceptional Nebraskans who want more from their university than a regular class. They are our future. The lab gives our professors the tools to lead them.”

The Swarts Family Lab is stocked with modern scientific equipment, including instruments to determine physical properties of food and biomaterials, instrumentation for signal analysis, sensors for physiological measurements, fluorescence microscopes, and hoods and incubators to grow human cell cultures.

“With the new Swarts Family Biological Engineering Teaching Lab, our students will be able to perform high level experiments with top-of-the-line equipment and communicate their data using two smart boards,” Pannier said.

Swarts has enjoyed supporting various areas of the University of Nebraska through the years. She established a permanently endowed student scholarship fund in memory of her mother, Elenore Gakemeier Swarts, to support Biological Systems Engineering students. At UNMC, she established a fund to support Alzheimer’s and other neurological research efforts and provided support for the creation of the Weigel Williamson Center for Visual Rehabilitation, which opened in 2008. She has also enjoyed supporting UNMC’s student-managed SHARING Clinic in Omaha, where she has volunteered as a mentor to future doctors.

The University of Nebraska Foundation is an independent, nonprofit organization that has connected the dreams and passions of donors to the mission of the university for the past 75 years. In 2010, donors designated more than $136 million in gifts to scholarships, academic programs, medical research and other priorities at the university. The foundation’s current $1.2 billion fundraising initiative, the Campaign for Nebraska: Unlimited Possibilities, concludes in 2014. For more information, visit nufoundation.org.

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