April 10, 2003

C.U. Implements Life Sciences Plan

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Last May, President Hunter R. Rawlings III and Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin announced the creation of the New Life Sciences Initiative (NLSI), a $500 million effort hailed as the largest single scientific venture in Cornell’s history. In the year since its inception, the project has made material progress in its drive to acquire both new faculty and necessary funds.

According to Kraig Adler, vice provost for life sciences, the University has already hired 35 new faculty members in the area of life sciences since 1998, a substantial portion of the planned total of 100 hires in the next five to seven years.

“We’re doing something special that people want to be a part of,” he said, adding that the University isn’t in a rush to make faculty appointments.

“We’re looking for superstars, and if we don’t find the right person in year one, two or three, we’ll wait until year four,” Adler said.

These efforts and others will directly impact undergraduate education. Aside from attracting both experienced professors and new assistant professors to teach and conduct research at Cornell, the broader initiative calls for improvements in existing facilities and the construction of new ones.

Duffield Hall, the $62.5 million nanotechnology building on the engineering quad, is expected to be completed in the fall, and preliminary groundwork on the new Life Science Technology Building will begin in about a year.

Adler foresees this $110 million research facility, to be built on the current Alumni fields, as a welcome place for undergraduates as well.

“I expect several hundred undergraduates to be working in these buildings on a daily basis,” he said, noting Cornell’s unique emphasis on involving undergraduates in Life Science research.

In addition, plans for the NLSI call for renovations and new construction for the area of Baker Hall, Olin Lab and Clark Hall.

According to Prof. Jonathan Culler, senior associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the $75 million improvements are necessary to enhance the quality of the aging facilities.

“They’re crowded, with a lot of space that is fairly old, and not adequate for present-day research,” he said.

Prof. Barry Carpenter, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, noted that a new facility will not only provide modern accommodations for research groups, but also will give Cornell “the ability to address the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of modern scientific research.”

The space will allow this collaboration by housing researchers from the departments of Physics, Chemistry and Chemical Biology and Applied and Engineering Physics.

Currently, the University and the project’s architects, Burt Hill Kosar Rittelmann Associates, are in the process of choosing a site for the building.

The complexities of the project, according to Culler, include the need for “vibration-free” space in order for the various departments to carry out sensitive research. Areas under consideration include the tract in front of Clark Hall and adjacent to Baker Laboratory, and the current site of Newman Laboratory.

These various projects and faculty hirings have created the need for the largest single fund-raising campaign in Cornell’s history, challenging the University’s Office of Alumni Affairs and Development. However, both Adler and Inge Reichenbach, vice president for alumni affairs and development, remain optimistic.

“People are very excited about it,” Reichenbach said. “They are very proud of Cornell’s leadership in the Life Sciences.”

Current efforts focus on educating alumni and foundations about the NLSI through forums held across the country. According to Adler, this “friend-raising” must precede fundraising.

“People give to something they understand and care about,” Reichenbach said, and therefore her office’s efforts have begun with two years devoted to education, followed by an expected five years of fundraising.

Even with this strategy and the recent economic downturn, Cornell has already raised $130 million.

Adler stressed that the NLSI has received broad support from faculty, trustees and President-elect Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77.

“When you have this kind of agreement on what the University’s goal should be,” Adler said, “this is not something we will fail at.”

Archived article by Michael Dickstein