Oct. 5, 2000
Vol. 20 No. 2

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    IRB designs to go before Board of Trustees Nov. 2

    By Steve Koppes
    News Office

    The University’s blueprints for conducting research in a scientific atmosphere that defies the traditional boundaries of physics, chemistry and biology are nearly complete.

    Floor plans and exterior designs for a new, $176 million Interdisciplinary Research Building will go before the University Board of Trustees for approval Thursday, Nov. 2.

    The University has high stakes riding on the IRB’s construction, said John Fogarty, Director of Facilities and Capital Planning for the Biological Sciences Division. “We have to have modern facilities to continue to attract top faculty to the University and to attract research dollars to our faculty,” he said.

    The five-story, approximately 400,000-gross-square-foot building will be built on 57th Street between Drexel and Ellis avenues in the space now occupied by Phemister Hall, Whitman Laboratory and the Visual Sciences Center. On-site demolition is scheduled for the spring of 2001 and expected completion in summer 2004.

    The building will provide office and laboratory space for approximately 100 faculty members, split almost evenly between the Biological and Physical Sciences divisions.

    “In other universities, these two groups are quite often in completely separate buildings. They don’t talk to each other,” said Glenn Steele Jr., Dean of the Biological Sciences Division and the Pritzker School of Medicine.

    Fogarty added that this interdivisional concept rarely has been tried at other universities. He believes that other universities are keenly observing this project.

    But the IRB is designed to bring these two groups together, both floor-by-floor and in a third-floor atrium lounge. This area will feature a commanding view of the Science Quadrangle to the south and an eating area similar to the one on the second floor of the Biological Sciences Learning Center.

    Occupying the heart of the building will be the Institute for Biophysical Dynamics. The institute was founded jointly by the two divisions in 1998 to spur ambitious research projects that go beyond the scope of any single discipline.

    Examples include translating basic biological processes into the fabrication of new materials, improving drug design through new molecular insights, and applying advanced imaging and chemistry to better understand organismal function and disease.

    The Physical Sciences Division has included a renewed commitment to synthetic chemistry in its portion of the building. This burgeoning field is devoted to the creation of molecules with new properties, and is moving toward closer connections with materials science, biology and medicine.

    “We want to actually increase the emphasis on synthetic chemistry in the Physical Sciences Division,” said David Oxtoby, Dean of the Division and the William Rainey Harper Professor in Chemistry. “There is a lot of very exciting work going on in the field.”

    The IRB has space for 44 faculty members from the Physical Sciences Division, 14 of whom will be synthetic chemists. The Division currently employs nine synthetic chemists, and a search to fill the additional positions continues.

    Space has been allocated for state-of-the-art laboratories in the IRB for members of the Chemistry Department and the James Franck Institute, both of the Physical Sciences Division. The new building also will accommodate faculty from the Biological Sciences. It will house more than 50 faculty members from the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Ben May Cancer Research Institute.

    “These new state-of-the-art laboratories will help ensure that the Biological Sciences Division remains competitive for a substantial share of the large increase in research funding that the federal government has earmarked for the National Institutes of Health,” Fogarty said.

    On the exterior, the building’s porticoed front entrance will face north onto 57th Street. A breezeway on the ground floor will allow pedestrian traffic to flow between the North and South Science Quadrangles that are divided by 57th Street. The fa┴ade will predominantly consist of either limestone or precast concrete in some sections and glass in others.

    The IRB project also is expected to enliven the South Science Quad with improved landscaping and additional pedestrian paths. Outdoor seating will be added, and a largely unused courtyard south of the Kersten Physics Teaching Center may be reworked.

    “The Quad has been described as being too long and narrow and underutilized,” Fogarty said. “There are not enough uses that open up into the Quad to animate it. This building will help do that.”