Scientific work at Brigham Young University

The study of science began to flourish at Brigham Young Academy in the mid-1880s as part of the Academic Department. Students in the Academic Department were able to study physics, biology, geography, and geology. The individual most responsible for this flourishing of science at the academy was James E. Talmage. Talmage had studied at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins University in Maryland where he acquired a reputation as a promising scientific scholar. When he returned to the academy in 1884 he set up what would become Brigham Young University’s first laboratory. This laboratory was designed to meet the demands of the large number of students interested in scientific study. The laboratory had a private office and an apparatus room and was located on the downstairs floor of the ZCMI building that was serving as a temporary home for the academy. Scientific work would continue to be important when the academy moved into the newly completed Education Building in 1892 and space was made for a small laboratory. As the physical plant of Brigham Young Academy expanded laboratory space would be made available for physics and chemistry. The laboratory space was adequate for the instructional needs of the small school.

Physics laboratory and lecture room, ca. 1904.

In 1922 President Franklin S. Harris began a campaign to get Brigham Young University accredited (the academy had changed its name in 1903). One of the findings of the accrediting bodies was the fact that the scientific equipment available to students and faculty had not improved on campus since the early 1900s. This finding was disturbing to President Harris, a scientist himself, and he spent a good portion of his presidential administration trying to convince the Church Board of Education that more money needed to be spent on scientific equipment. Unfortunately, the poor financial position of the Church prevented this from happening. It would not be until the late 1940s that money would be appropriated for a building dedicated to science and containing current scientific equipment and laboratory space. The Erying Science Center would be completed in 1950 and immediately impacted the quality of scientific study on the campus.

Chemistry laboratory in the Eyring Science Center, 1950s.

The construction of the Eyring Science Center marked the beginning of a marked increase of scientific equipment and laboratory space on campus. Several buildings would be built during the 1960s and 1970s that featured equipment designed to improve the study of science on campus. They included an Engineering and Technology Building and the Fletcher Engineering Sciences Laboratory.

Engineering and Technology Building, 1974.

Today Brigham Young University students interested in the sciences are privileged to work with excellent equipment and have beautiful laboratory space to facilitate their scientific study.

Biology Lab (Courtesy BYU Photo)

Chemical Engineering Lab (Courtesy BYU Photo)

If you would are interested in learning more about the study of science and the growth of laboratory space at Brigham Young University, please contact the university archivist at (801) 422-5821 or

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