Collaboration thrives in Carolina Physical Science Complex
The science behind the science complex
Where’s old Venable?
Collaboration thrives in Carolina Physical Science Complex
One way to measure the significance of the Carolina Physical
Science Complex is to consider the amount of money required to build it. The
$250 million complex is the largest construction project in the history of the
But to focus only on its size and cost may be missing a more
vital point, said Chancellor Holden Thorp, who has described the complex as the
epicenter where scientists from across campus, and throughout disciplines, come
together to innovate and collaborate.
The five buildings that comprise the complex house the
departments of chemistry, computer science, marine sciences, mathematics, and
physics and astronomy in the College of Arts and Sciences, as well as a new
Institute for Advanced Materials, Nanoscience and Technology.
By bringing faculty and students together in high-tech
laboratories and classrooms, the complex is designed with an eye for
functionality and a means to enhance Carolina’s longtime strengths in
collaboration and interdisciplinary inquiry by pushing units well beyond their
traditional “silos,” Thorp said.
The University dedicated the newest buildings –
Venable Hall and Murray Hall – on the site of the former Venable Hall on
A race against time
What a difference a decade can make.
In spring 2000, when a group of legislators visited to see
the campus building needs up close, the old Venable Hall, which then housed the
chemistry and marine sciences departments, was considered the poster child for
Carolina, among the top research universities in the
country, was a leader in science and technology, legislators were told, but the
decrepit conditions inside Venable posed a grave threat to the University’s
ability to attract and keep talented faculty and students.
Trying to conduct state-of-the-art research in such
conditions, University leaders said, was akin to trying to break a new land
speed record in a souped-up Model T. You might do OK for a while, but sooner or
later, you need new wheels to stay in the race. And Model Ts, it was also
noted, stopped rolling off Henry Ford’s assembly line in 1927 – four
years after Venable first opened its doors.
Legislators saw enough that spring – here and on
campuses throughout the state – to put on the November ballot the 2000
Higher Education Bond Referendum, which generated $3.1 billion to fund
construction projects in the UNC and community college systems.
Of the $515 million in bond money that Carolina received,
$90 million was earmarked for the Carolina Physical Science Complex, making it
the bond referendum’s largest allocation for a single project. But University
leaders wanted to make it even bigger, said Bruce Runberg, associate vice
chancellor of facilities planning and construction, who served as the University’s
point man for that
Shaping the vision
The vision was brought to fruition, Runberg said, thanks to
the hundreds of Carolina alumni and supporters who matched the generosity of
state voters with gifts of their own.
Seizing upon the excitement the bond allocation had
unleashed, leaders also raised $22 million in private gifts through the
Carolina First fundraising campaign. Indirectly, Carolina scientists helped
finance the science complex construction costs through the use of overhead receipts,
facilities and administrative costs recouped from the federal government in
support of scientific research grants.
The first phase of the complex consisted of Max C. Chapman
Jr. Hall, which opened during the 2006–07 academic year, and the W. Lowry
and Susan S. Caudill Laboratories, which opened a year later.
Chapman Hall added classrooms and labs for the burgeoning
departments of physics and astronomy, marine sciences and mathematics. It was
named for Max Chapman, a 1966 economics alumnus and a legendary figure in the
futures and options industry on Wall Street.
The building includes a rooftop observatory deck and a
remote observing control room for telescopes that UNC uses in partnership with
Chile and South Africa. A new fluids laboratory is shared by marine sciences
and applied mathematics, and a large wave tank allows researchers to study the
behavior of water in hurricanes and tsunamis.
Caudill Labs was named in honor of Lowry Caudill and his
wife Susan. Caudill, co-founder of Magellan Laboratories Inc., made a lead $3
million gift and led fundraising efforts for the building. At the building
dedication ceremony, he said the science complex would help keep North Carolina
at the forefront of science and technology, a key to the state’s economy.
“We have the leadership. We have the vision. We have the
drive,” he said.
And Carolina was no longer hampered in the race for research
dollars by being stuck in a Model T.
The rise in research dollars
In fall 2008, the University dedicated the first building of
the second phase of the science complex, the Frederick P. Brooks Jr. Computer
Science Building, adjoining Sitterson Hall.
Earlier that year, a demolition bulldozer took its first
bite out of old Venable Hall, which disappeared from the landscape one
truckload at a time. Months of site preparation followed before a construction
crane even appeared.
Now, in the once-empty footprint are Venable Hall and Murray
Hall, which occupy adjoining wings of the same building. Together, the two
halls house the William R. Kenan Jr. Science Library, a portion of the
laboratories for the chemistry department, classrooms and lecture halls, and
the marine sciences department.
The final part of the science complex, which will begin once
funding becomes available, Runberg said, includes two additional buildings to
be constructed in what is now the parking lot next to the Murray Hall side plus
the site of the current ROTC building.
Thorp said expensive new buildings by themselves are not
enough to make a university great. A great university consists of high-quality
faculty and students. Fantastic buildings, though, make it possible for faculty
and students to do their best work – and to compete for research grants.
Andy Johns, associate vice chancellor for research, said that
although no formal analysis had been conducted, he believed there was a
correlation between the emergence of the Carolina Physical Science Complex and
the continuing increase in research awards.
“Most every unit that has occupied space in the science complex
has seen growth in research funding, with some units experiencing more
significant growth than others,” Johns said.
“Perhaps the most compelling piece of data supporting this
argument is that these units have more faculty and staff involved in research
awards, which likely wouldn’t be possible without having extra space.”
Michael Crimmins, associate dean of the College of Arts and
Sciences and the Mary Ann Smith Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, said
chemistry, computer science, physics and astronomy, mathematics and marine
sciences are the primary departments that have been affected to date.
“All have added research space as a result of the
construction of the Physical Science Complex,” he said. “All but marine
sciences, which is a small unit, have increased their research funding over the
past three to four years. The increase in both the amount and quality of
research space has allowed some expansion in the numbers of researchers in
these areas and the ability to attract higher quality students and faculty.”
For instance, the fluids lab in Chapman Hall has brought in
significant new funding for the math and marine sciences departments, Crimmins
said. In addition, the new Energy Frontier Research Center, which was funded by
the U.S. Department of Energy for $17.5 million, will be housed in Venable and Murray halls.
In addition, the move of several research groups from Kenan
temporarily opened up laboratory space in that building, which will be
renovated through a $1.8 million stimulus grant from the National Science
Foundation, he said. And next spring, the Institute for Nanomedicine will house
one or two new faculty members in Venable and Chapman.
“For many years to come, the science complex will foster
strong collaboration and interdisciplinary research activities at the edges of
traditional disciplines,” Crimmins said.
The science behind the science complex
With the completion of Venable and Murray halls, the vision
for the Carolina Physical Science Complex is becoming reality.
Look west from a certain glass door on the second floor of
the new buildings and you can see how the basement level bay doors of Chapman
Hall line up with the loading dock directly across what is now a parking lot.
You are not standing in just any open lounge area, with cozy
seats and sunlight streaming in. When the Polk Place-style quad that will unite
the science complex is done, this door to nowhere will become the new
building’s entrance. That’s how far ahead the details are planned.
Which is why, perhaps, it should come as no surprise that
much careful thought by faculty and staff went into the planning and design of
these newer buildings of the science complex.
Some of that thinking went against established notions, such
as putting one discipline in its own building. Instead, what if scientific
colleagues shared the same hallway? That’s why synthetic organic chemists now
have offices on the second floor of Murray, Venable and Caudill, all along the
same wide corridor.
“When you’re working laterally, you bump into people,” said
Matthew Redinbo, chair of the chem-
The marine sciences department also occupies space in
Venable and Murray, which is pretty far inland for those who study the sea. But
ingenuity and design have brought the ocean to them in the form of a special
lab with running seawater. The lab was built on the loading dock level, outside
the skin of the building, to prevent any saltwater effects on the labs and
offices inside, said Brent McKee, Mary and Watts Hill Jr. Distinguished Professor
and chair of the marine
In Chapman Hall, supersensitive equipment belonging to the
Chapel Hill Analytical and Nanofabrication Laboratory found a home in the
basement to get it as close to bedrock and as far away from vibrating
ventilation systems as possible. Now these scientists don’t have to fear that
even the slightest vibration will make images of nanometer-sized objects fuzzy,
said Thomas Clegg, V. Lee Bounds Professor of Physics.
Another part of the Chapman basement was originally an
unfinished space that turned out to be just the right size and shape for a
giant wave tank used by marine scientists and mathematicians who study fluid
The scientists also looked skyward for space. The roof of
Chapman serves as an observatory for the physics and astronomy department. A
greenhouse juts out of the fourth floor of Venable so marine scientists can
take advantage of the sunlight and controlled climate to examine the effects of
marsh plants on circulation and other experiments.
Redinbo already envisions the day when behavioral
psychologists will occupy a new psychology building across the quad from the
scientists who study brain chemistry in Venable, Murray and Caudill.
“It’s the idea of the Greek word ‘agora,’” Redinbo said.
“This is the center of mass for science in the
College of Arts and Sciences.”
Where’s old Venable?
Even as we celebrated the dedication of new buildings called
Venable and Murray halls on University Day, the structure that occupied that
ground for 83 years lives on.
Thanks to improved construction waste management practices
on campus, more than 60 percent of old Venable was reused or recycled.
So parts of the historic building are all around – as
close as the new Venable and Murray halls and as far away as Haiti.
the interior courtyard of the new science complex buildings, chunks of granite
from the stairs are set into the low stone walls. Next to an archway, old
bricks make up part of a decorative lattice-work wall and a pedestal built into
the stone wall below. A bronze plaque engraved with the names of donors who
purchased the old bricks for $5,000 or $1,000 will sit atop the pedestal.
Kenan Labs, many lab fixtures were salvaged
campus, slate roofing tiles and heating and air conditioning controls and
equipment will be used for repairs and replacement.
in almost any office on campus or in employees’ homes, since 6.5 tons of office
furniture and equipment went to the UNC Surplus Retail Store.
the new Dental Science building, still under construction, the limestone door
surrounds will be used to frame new doorways.
the trails of Carolina North, concrete tiles were used to stabilize trails.
the surrounding community, concrete and brick rubble was used for road base.
Morehead City, office and lab furnishings were trucked to the Institute of
Marine Sciences for reuse.
new ceilings everywhere, 2 tons of ceiling tiles were recycled by Armstrong
Haiti, more than 11 tons of furniture and fixtures – chairs, student
desks, file cabinets, bookshelves and so on – were salvaged and sent to
the island nation through Institution Recycling Network and Food for the Poor,
which was hired by the contractor to repurpose these items.
in the world, 376 tons of metal of various kinds were sorted and recycled into
anything from aluminum cans to new steel girders.
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