Chemistry Building Celebrates 20th Anniversary
Transformative. Iconic. Chemistry.
Opening in 1999, the Chemistry Building was the first UConn building to be built as part of the 10-year UConn 2000 initiative, a series of 85 capital projects across UConn's campuses. This iconic campus landmark marked the beginning of an amazing transformation of the Storrs campus. In these years, the Department has experienced tremendous growth thanks to the hard work, innovation, and success of all those that call the Chemistry Building “home.”
UConn 2000, the Beginning of a Transformation
Signed into law in 1995, UConn 2000 was a 10-year plan to transform the University of Connecticut. As the Connecticut Legislature approved a $1 billion package to rebuild and expand the University of Connecticut, the state's investment in its flagship public university marked the largest such initiative in the nation at the time. The success of the bill is credited—in part—to a wave of "Huskymania" that overtook Connecticut as the women's and men's basketball teams vied for national championships.1
The scope of UConn 2000 included building new residence halls, new chemistry and pharmacy buildings, expanding the Stamford and Avery Point branch campuses, and attending to significant infrastructure issues.
Outside a crumbling Homer Babbidge Library on June 22, 1995, UConn President Harry Hartley, Governor John Rowland, and House Speaker Thomas Ritter were joined by approximately 500 others to commemorate the signing of the bill and the upcoming university renaissance.
Prior to UConn 2000, many top students and faculty candidates cited UConn's facilities as a reason for overlooking UConn as a top choice. As evidenced by the 17% increase in freshman applicants and an increase of 7 points in SAT scores in UConn 2000's first years (1997-1998), UConn was quickly able to realize its goal of reducing exodus among its Connecticut students and graduates. In the same years, the new state-of-the-art facilities had attracted one of the most talented and diverse faculty classes in the University's history.2 Long-term success of UConn 2000's goals is furthered evidenced by a 115% increase in freshmen applicants and a 9.7% increase in freshmen SAT scores from Fall 1995 to Fall 2010.3
"The Chemistry Building holds a special place in my heart. Friends refer to it as my 'home,' as I truly spend more hours here in a day than in my room...Undergraduate research [in the Chemistry Building's research labs] has provided me the hands-on skills to complement my academic achievements. It has given me the tools and confidence to enter the professional world."
- Elyse Estra '19 (CLAS)
About the UConn Chemistry Building
A new chemistry building was identified as one of the key UConn 2000 efforts, marking the beginning of the transformation on the Storrs campus. The previous chemistry facilities—Beech Hall followed by the currently-named Philip E. Austin Building (previously the Waring Chemistry Building)—were restrictive in terms of space and offerings.1
As then-Associate Department Head and Head of the Building Committee Arthur Dimock reflects, "By the mid-80s, the Chemistry Department was struggling for space in the former building, which had been designed to house both Chemistry and Physics. The facilities were seriously outdated and suffering from years of 'deferred maintenance.' Designing the new building gave us the chance to ensure that we would have a safe, state-of-the-art facility for teaching and research for the foreseeable future."
The Chemistry Building was positioned as the first new building of the new "Technology Quad," "envisioned to centralize science and engineering programs at the northern side of the central campus."3
"One of my favorite things about the way the Chemistry Building is designed is its openness. I like that you can walk down the halls of the Research Wing and easily see into people’s laboratories. I also like how there are tables at which students can sit right outside of faculty offices in the Faculty Wing. This design encourages students to engage with and build relationships with multiple professors in the department in informal interactions."
- Jessica Martin '21 Ph.D.
Breaking ground in November 1996, the Chemistry Building opened to students in January 1999. The Building is 199,000 square feet, one of the largest and most spectacular buildings constructed at the University. The layout features three wings: one for teaching, one for research, and a centrally-located wing for administrative offices and lecture halls, designed to blend the teaching and research functions. Inside, 64 cutting-edge research labs can be found in the Waring Research Wing, in addition to 20 more labs in the Teaching Wing. Research labs reflect the interdisciplinary nature of chemistry research and teaching, with connected lab spaces to allow for enhanced collaboration. Lecture halls and discussion rooms encourage thoughtful learning and discussions. Meeting rooms, seminar and conference rooms, reading areas, student lounges, and a kid-friendly outreach lab are scattered throughout the building.
Integral to the design of the "new" Chemistry Building were Lecturer Emeritus Arthur Dimock and Centerbrook Architects and Planners. Working closely to ensure that the building met the needs of current and future generations, the UConn and Centerbrook teams developed a strong partnership to transform UConn's visions into a reality. The resulting Chemistry Building embraced themes of collaboration and growth. For example, the Administrative Wing was consciously placed between the Research Wing and the Teaching Wing, a statement to all that both are of equal importance. Also, research labs connected through a hallway of back doors allowed interdisciplinary research collaboration, an ode to the connected and morphing nature of the world of chemistry. Small, deliberate details also fill the building, such as: flexible room spaces that could be turned into discussion spaces, conference rooms, or meeting rooms; a chilled water system that was projected to save millions of gallons of water in the first decade; and a pattern of stripes on the hallway floors that lead to emergency shower areas in the event of an accident.4 In 1998, Centerbrook Associates was awarded the prestigious American Institute of Architects' Architecture Firm Award, the highest honor the American Institute of Architects can bestow.5
"I’ll never forget the sense of astonishment I felt when I first visited the New Chemistry Building. It was completely different than any other chemistry I’d ever seen. You feel, in a visceral way, how much thought went into how the spaces were designed – from labs, to office clusters, to the quiet common areas at the end of the halls. The amazing thing is that, even now 20 years on, I see the light in science visitors’ eyes when I give them a tour of the building. They react in the same way I did: 'This building was built for me!'"
- Mark Peczuh, Associate Department Head
Celebrating 20 Years
April 17-18, 2019, the UConn Department of Chemistry celebrated the 20-year anniversary of the "new" Chemistry Building. Paired with the Annual Randolph T. Major Symposium (R.T. Major), the event featured lectures, panel discussions, building tours, and more! Over 250 alumni, faculty, staff, students, and friends joined the department in celebrating this momentous occasion.
The Randolph T. Major Symposium
The events of Wednesday, April 17th kicked off with a R.T. Major lecture by keynote speaker Kenneth N. Raymond, Chancellor's Professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Raymond's lecture addressed "Gadolinium MRI Agents: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." Raymond discussed how although 40% of MRI scans utilize a contrast agent that contains gadolinium, its high toxicity has had negative medical and environmental consequences, such as being unaffected by current sewage treatment processes. Raymond's keynote lecture later that day examined "Supramolecular Metal Complex Clusters as Pseudo Enzymes," explaining how the chirality and hydrophobic interior of supramolecular hosts make for exotic chemistry and enzyme-like catalysis.
Wednesday's R.T. Major Poster Session highlighted the research projects of over 60 graduate and undergraduate students from all UConn Chemistry research divisions. Top poster presenters were graduate students Mark Tolentino, Kaitlynn Ayers, and Weiyu Zhang.
The R.T. Major Reception and Dinner marked the end of the day's events, where Professor Emeritus Bob Bohn delivered an address in memory of the late Research Professor Randolph T. Major. Following Major's death in 1976, Merck and Company, Inc. presented UConn with a grant to endow a lectureship in his memory. Thanks to this generous gift, the lectureship has continued with renowned chemists who honor the name and ideals of Randolph T. Major. During the evening, alumni, current students, current faculty, Centerbrook Architects, and friends of the department were able to reunite and to make new connections. Unsurprisingly, cocktail hour conversation included debate over which division is the best (no clear victor emerged).
The next day, the R.T. Major Lecture series was then rounded out by the talk, "Small Molecule Activation by Multimetallic Complexes of f-Elements," with Dr. Marinella Mazzanti of the Ecole Polytechnic Fédérale de Lausanne. During the lecture, the applications of uranium were discussed, such as how uranium complexes can be synthesized and used to activate carbon dioxide and other small molecules.
Chemistry Building Anniversary
On Thursday, April 18th, the 20th Anniversary Celebration began with an anniversary kick-off by Department of Chemistry Head Christian Brückner, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Associate Dean Robin Côté, and UConn Vice Provost John Volin. The speakers commented upon the UConn 2000 initiative, and its positive impact at UConn and state-wide.
Opening remotes were then followed by a panel discussion with Gary W. Brudvig of Yale University, Donna M. Huryn of the University of Pittsburgh, Kenneth N. Raymond of University of California, and moderator Harry A. Frank of the UConn Department of Chemistry. The panel, "Building UConn Chemistry for Another 20 Years," assessed where the field of chemistry is and where it should go, both in terms of research areas for investigation and in the fields of academic research and training. Huryn emphasized sharing on scales both large and small, from shared electronic lab notebooks to supported technicians of shared instrumentation. Brudvig reflected, "Discoveries are made when practitioners take conceptual risks and question what is known." Raymond further commented, "I'm big on dreams," imploring researchers to aggressively take ownership of ideas and move them forward. The panel discussion offered timeless takeaway messages to all in the audience.
"I'm big on dreams"
- Kenneth N. Raymond, Chancellor's Professor, University of California, Berkeley
Guided building tours led by Centerbrook Principal-in-Charge Mark Simon, Centerbrook Project Manager Jim Coan, and Lecturer Emeritus Arthur Dimock revealed little-known-facts about the Chemistry Building's design process and the many tailored elements within. For some, this was their first time exploring the "new" Chemistry Building, while for others, the tours offered an opportunity to reminisce. As the tours weaved throughout the building, guides revealed various facts about the structure, such as:
Fact #1: There are intentionally no suspended ceilings in the lab areas and hallways. Building infrastructure components—such as water pipes, power, etc.—are all suspended in layers to allow for ease of access in case the needs of a lab change over time.
Fact #2: 14 large stacks on the roof offer the Chemistry Building an intentionally mill-like appearance. Functionally, these stacks enclose the exhaust systems of 225 fume hoods. As the tours led to the attic, the architects revealed that one of the 14 stacks was only for aesthetic purposes to preserve uniformity (but didn't reveal which one!).
Fact #3: The floors of the Research Wing and Teaching Wing have gradients of dark green tile that increase in size as you get closer to an emergency service station. In the event of a chemical spill and impaired vision, a researcher's diminished view of increasingly darker tiles will lead them to an eye wash station.
During a Q&A session later that evening, Mark Simon and Arthur Dimock further discussed the building design process. Dimock recalled that the only request in the initial meetings with UConn Facilities Management was that the new building would not have a flat roof. Simon also referenced a rumor that the Chemistry Building was once called the "Titanic," a nod to the stature and stacks of the building in addition to false reports that the building was sinking into the ground.
The celebration was complimented by "3-Minute Thesis" presentations by graduate students Matthew Guberman-Pfeffer '19 Ph.D. and Deepthi Varghese '19 Ph.D. The 3-Minute Thesis (3MT) competition challenges students to succinctly present their thesis to a broad audience in less than 180 seconds using only one PowerPoint slide. Both graduate students succeeded in this ambitious task with talks about "Red Tides to Green Energy: What can we learn from photosynthetic algae (Guberman-Pfeffer)" and "Carbon Materials for Energy Storage Devices (Varghese)."
"It was great to reconnect with my old M.S. and Ph.D. advisors Professors Rusling, Stuart, and Bobbitt. They haven't changed a bit and still have the same passion for their research as they did when I left 35 years ago!"
- Tom Connors '83 M.S., '86 Ph.D.
Later, Assistant Professor in Residence Clyde Cady and Lecturer Emeritus Arthur Dimock utilized flames, dry ice, and other elements to illustrate scientific principles through "Fire and Ice" chemistry demonstrations. Bright lights and explosive sounds filled the lecture hall's audience with excitement and wonder.
Other events—such as a luncheon with demonstrations by the undergraduate UConn Chem Club—allowed alumni, students, current faculty, and staff to reminisce and to network. For some, revisiting old connections and creating new ones was their favorite element (pun not intended) of the 2-day celebration. Alumnus Dr. Tom Connors '83 M.S., '86 Ph.D. reflects, "It was great to reconnect with my old M.S. and Ph.D. advisors Professors Rusling, Stuart, and Bobbitt. They haven't changed a bit and still have the same passion for their research as they did when I left 35 years ago!" In total, approximately 15 alumni were in attendance, with each decade represented from the Class of '65 to the Class of '18.
Department Head Christian Brückner encourages everyone to "come and check out what a fine facility we have and what a vibrant department we are. Most students only know our department because they have to take general education...but we are more than that."
"Come and check out what a fine facility we have and what a vibrant department we are. Most students only know our department because they have to take general education...but we are more than that."
- Christian Brückner, Department Head
Challenge yourself to Tom's Trivia! See if you know as much about the Chemistry Building as the King of UConn Trivia and University Deputy Spokesperson Tom Breen '00 (CLAS).
- When the new Chemistry Building opened, one of the featured attractions were computer labs that provided double the number of PCs available to students at the old Waring Chemistry Building. How many computers did students have access to before the new building opened?
- The Chemistry Building was the first construction project under the transformative UConn 2000 initiative. After 2000, that initiative continued under a new name. What was it?
- Next Generation Connecticut
- 21st Century UConn
- Here's Looking at UConn
- UConn 2.0
- The Chemistry Building’s location on Swan Lake was previously occupied by what structure?
- Widmer Cottage
- The Charles E. Waring Building
- Cecil Kotto Hall
- The Orford Refectory
- Charles Waring, the Chemistry professor and department head who lends his name to the research wing in the Chemistry Building, was, along with his wife, Geraldine, a longtime supporter of every aspect of UConn, and four scholarships in his name are endowed at the University. Two of them are in chemistry, but where are the other two endowments?
- Physics and Geology
- Nursing and Baseball
- Football and Puppetry
- Concert Choir and Basketball
Scroll below photo for answers!
- C. As hard as it is to believe in today’s world of laptops and tablets, before the new chemistry building opened, there were only 10 Mac PowerPCs available for students to use in the old computer lab.
- A. As futuristic as the year 2000 once seemed, after the date passed it became apparent a new name would be needed to convey the forward-looking nature of the initiative. A successor initiative, Next Generation Connecticut, was launched in 2012.
- A. The Widmer Cottage, or Widmer Building, was the site of the University’s first infirmary, built in 1919. The School of Nursing occupied the building starting in 1950. The first dean of the nursing school, Carolyn Ladd Widmer, now lends her name to a state of the art facility built for nursing students in 2012.
- C. Charles and Geraldine Waring were enthusiastic UConn sports fans, and after his death in 1981, Geraldine endowed the Charles Waring Memorial Football Scholarship, along with a scholarship supporting puppetry students in the School of Fine Arts.
Couldn't join us for the anniversary celebration?
Explore the inside of the UConn Chemistry Building with the 360° videos below! Experience what's it's like to be part of a UConn Chemistry undergraduate lab, research lab, undergraduate lecture, or discussion section. Or, stop by the Chem Café in the Chemistry Building's atrium to grab a coffee on your way to class!
For the full 360° effect, please use the YouTube app on your iOS or Android mobile device. If viewing on a desktop, use Chrome, Firefox, or Internet Explorer and click and drag your mouse around to look in different directions.
(Milton Levin/Levin Aerial Works)
1Rabinovitz, Jonathan. “UConn to Get $1 Billion For a Face Lift.” The New York Times, 23 June 1995, www.nytimes.com/1995/06/23/nyregion/uconn-to-get-1-billion-for-a-face-lift.html.
2Grava, Karen. “UConn 2000 a Winner in Economic Terms.” Advance, University of Connecticut, 25 Jan. 1999, advance.uconn.edu/1999/990125/01259901.htm.
3“UConn 2000 5 Year Progress Report.” Connecticut General Assembly, University of Connecticut, www.cga.ct.gov/2011/HEDdata/tmy/2011ZZ-00000-R000303-University of Connecticut-TMY.PDF.
4Veilleux, Richard. “Faculty, students move into new chemistry building.” Advance, University of Connecticut, 28 Sept. 1998, http://advance.uconn.edu/1998/980928/09289801.htm.
5Veilleux, Richard. “Designer of new chemistry building wins top architectural award.” Advance, University of Connecticut, 27 Apr. 1998, http://www.advance.uconn.edu/1998/980427/04279811.htm.
By Ashley Orcutt