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Feature Story | Mathematics and Computer Science

Renovated Searle Chemistry Laboratory to Reopen June 1

Workers are putting the finishing touches on a $49 million total renovation of the Searle Chemistry Laboratory building that will meet the new and future technical demands of leading scientific research, while fostering the human interaction that fuels cross-disciplinary scholarship at the University of Chicago.

Searle Laboratory also likely will attain LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The University has already received LEED Gold Certification for commercial interiors for the renovated 6045 S. Kenwood Building. LEED certification provides independent verification that a building meets the highest environmental performance measures.

A $10 million donation from the Searle Funds at the Chicago Community Trust helped finance the Searle renovation. A dozen members of the Searle family will attend a private ribbon-cutting ceremony and tour the building on Monday, April 20.

Construction of the original five-story building at 5735 S. Ellis Ave. was completed in 1968. Helping to finance the original construction was a $1 million donation from the Searle family and a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The Searle family’s commitment to science is extraordinary,” said Robert Fefferman, Dean of the Physical Sciences Division, which received the donation. The Searles want to change the world with their philanthropy to the Chicago Biomedical Consortium, the University of Chicago and other institutions. Theyre tremendous.”

The renovated space will allow the Department of Chemistry to expand from its current 21 faculty members to a full complement of 25, and will house the most advanced scientific instruments available today.

This is really a transformative event for the Department of Chemistry,” said Michael Hopkins, professor and chairman of the department. The new Searle Laboratory space allows us to make long-needed faculty appointments and acquire cutting-edge instrumentation in areas ranging from biology to nanoscience that will be available in few other universities in the country.”

The Indiana limestone framework of the original building remains largely unchanged, but the interior tells a different story. The building has been completely gutted,” said Hopkins, who led the project from its inception. The concrete shell is all that’s left of the original building.”

The Searle Lab now has more than 40 miles of telecommunications cables winding through its walls, a vital consideration for both the Chemistry Department and the Computation Institute.

This new space is incredibly important for the Computation Institute,” said Institute Director Ian Foster. The institute will now have central space for half of its 130 Fellows and staff members.

We’re very excited about this,” said Foster, the Arthur Holly Compton Distinguished Service Professor in Computer Science. By having computer scientists, economists, biologists, neuroscientists, applied mathematicians, visualization experts, astrophysicists, artists, etc., all in one place, we know great things will happen.”

Foster lauded the open layout of the Institute’s new home, designed to maximize collaboration. The Institute will have multiple Access Grid collaboration systems, which allows people in different locations to share massive quantities of computer data. Other equipment includes high-resolution projection units, high-speed networks and experimental laboratories.

Chemistry buildings are generally energy-intensive, because air can pass through a laboratory only one time to ensure the health and safety of the occupants. While office buildings recirculate the air, chemistry buildings air-condition or heat the air once, then vent it through laboratory fume hoods.

Searle Laboratory is equipped with the latest in fume-hood technology, said Kenneth Park, Senior Project Manager for the Physical Sciences Division. Motion sensors detect whether a researcher is standing in front of a hood doing an experiment. If the researcher leaves for an extended period, the sensors will close the hood sash, reducing air flow and saving energy. The building also sports several areas of green roof, which lowers energy consumption by reducing heat buildup in summer and heat loss during winter.

The third and fourth floors of the building will be devoted to synthetic chemistry laboratories, where scientists will create molecules with interesting or useful new properties. The first research groups to occupy the building, on the third floor, will be those of Viresh Rawal, Professor in Chemistry, and Sergey Kozmin, Associate Professor in Chemistry.

The third floor also will house the $11 million Tri-Institutional Center for Chemical Methods and Library Development, and two large suites for instrumentation -- one for nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (for studying molecular structure), the other for mass spectrometry (for identifying molecular composition).

Kozmin directs the Tri-Institutional Center, which is developing new ways of building state-of-the-art chemical libraries that will help identify new compounds for future drug development and basic biomedical research.

The fourth floor will remain vacant, pending new faculty hires in synthetic chemistry. This is prime space for recruiting exciting young faculty members or a prominent senior scholar to the university,” Hopkins said.

The expanding Computation Institute, a joint effort between the University and Argonne National Laboratory, will temporarily occupy the second floor. Eventually the Computation Institute will move into the Center for Physical and Computational Sciences, now in planning. The first floor will be evenly divided between the Computation Institute and the Chemistry Department.

The department has allocated part of the lower level for the accommodation of next-generation scientific instruments. This section of the lower level includes a giant square pit, 10 feet deep. This high-bay space will allow us to house very tall future instrumentation, such as a high-field NMR spectrometer, to study large biological systems or a vibration isolation bay for nanoscience,” Hopkins said.

The other portion of the lower level eventually will be devoted to a clean room, where airborne and other pollutants can be rigidly controlled during sensitive experiments. Nanoscience and biological chemistry research will be conducted in the clean room, now in planning.