Keeper of the Chemistry Building

Chemistry Building
UConn Chemistry Building

The health of the building infrastructure is a major aspect for any chemistry facility. Our Chemistry Department occupies a beautiful building that is also astoundingly complex: 225 fume hoods evacuate the air out of the building at a high rate (also needing to be replenished at the same rate), and dependent of the weather, also heated, cooled, or dehumidified. We have electronic lock systems in the research wing, deionized water, chilled cooling water, steam, compressed air, and house nitrogen coming out of the taps in all labs. All of the magic for this to happen smoothly takes place in the basement of the building.

Tyler Cardinal has been the building services manager in the Department of Chemistry since December 2016. He liaises with the building occupants, Facilities Operations, and external vendors to ensure the optimal maintenance and functioning of the Chemistry Building. He oversees the smooth operation of the building facilities for our teaching and research programs. Cardinal’s portfolio is broad and plays a crucial role for us to fulfill our teaching and research missions.

Department Head Christian Brueckner states:

Tyler’s performance over the years has been consistently excellent and our building is now in many respects (technical and optical updates, space utilization, etc.) in a much better place than it was before his tenure began.

The abrupt closure of campus and shutdown of the building in March 2020 was a true downfall for research productivity, but it also provided a unique opportunity to evaluate and repair infrastructure: work that would have been nearly impossible to do without major interruptions during the regular, continuous flow of academic and research activities. For example, we experienced unusually high nitrogen use over the last several years. Cardinal was finally able to completely empty and thaw out the house nitrogen bulk tank. This allowed several leaks around the tank to be identified and repaired.

Similarly, the closure was also an opportune time to update some of the building’s cosmetics. The atriums received fresh paint, and new carpets were also laid in some lecture halls, seminar rooms, and the main office without having to inconvenience anyone!

As a result, the department was able to reopen alongside the University without any hitches – and looking better than before. Once it did reopen, Cardinal served as the main contact for all COVID-related inquiries from faculty and students. Brueckner says, “He made everyone feel we were in a safe and well-managed building – which we indeed were.”

Cardinal also helps to independently identify and creatively fix problems, stating: “I really enjoy the conversion of research spaces to meet the needs of faculty. I enjoy the challenges of trying to blend each PI’s [Principal Investigator] requests with what is feasibly possible with the building’s infrastructure.” This part of his role greatly expanded during the pandemic, as new faculty members began their work in the department and COVID restrictions complicated the set-up processes.

Fabris Research Lab
Fabris Research Lab (Ngan Thach)


Gilmore Research Lab
Gilmore Research Lab (Ngan Thach)


Aksenov Research Lab
Aksenov Research Lab (Ngan Thach)

One example is the research lab of Harold S. Schwenk Sr. Distinguished Chair in Chemistry Dan Fabris, for which Cardinal oversaw critical renovations. Work included a highly invasive emergency power installation and a magnet quench vent to the exterior of the building.

Cardinal also assisted in the conversion of the lab for incoming assistant professor Kerry Gilmore, a space that required extensive renovations. A double-sized analytical chemistry lab was converted to two laboratories: one for classic wet work with fume hoods, a center island, and benches, and the other into a flexible automated synthesis laboratory with a flexible architecture. Cardinal also coordinated the extensive HVAC changes to accommodate the new areas’ upgrades. These are just a few, of many, complex upgrades that Cardinal handled expediently and expertly.

Now that the renovations are complete, Gilmore reflects:

I am very grateful for Tyler. He is without a doubt the most competent, present, and knowledgeable building manager of any institution I have worked in. He has not only been instrumental in the renovations of my lab and office (during the pandemic), but he has also been incredibly creative and motivated to help solve the problems we have encountered.

Most recently, Cardinal was in the midst of renovating assistant professor Alexander Aksenov’s new research lab. The major aspects of its construction were just completed. He has been converting the underutilized Outreach Lab into a new Mass Spectrometry research lab. Aksenov Lab updates have included: raising benches to a standard height and installing house nitrogen, compressed air, and vacuum lines. Cardinal has also set the foundation for potential future growth by installing major electrical circuits to accommodate new equipment. Aksenov says:

I feel very lucky that Tyler is the building manager here. I am setting up a new lab, which requires constant coordination and communication. Lots of things can go wrong and they often do. With Tyler, I feel like things are always under control and everything is in good hands.

At its core, Cardinal’s job is not an easy one. It requires a keen sense of time management and technical skills in many areas. Cardinal’s success can also be attributed to his excellent social competence in navigating tricky situations with staff, contractors, facilities personnel, or faculty, while staying firm on the issues he must.

He says, “Sometimes it’s a small project, sometimes it’s a large project, but it is always satisfying to know I have done my best to meet the needs of a growing department.”

2022 will undoubtedly bring further growth and an assortment of projects and renovations to the building. One thing that Cardinal looks forward to is an interactive periodic table that will be installed in the second-floor atrium. He states, “[It] will be an excellent addition to the building, and it will be a conversation piece for years to come.” Be sure to keep an eye out for it over the course of the year!

By: Ngan Thach, UConn Department of Chemistry