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Making the Case for Space

In Chicago and Evanston, Northwestern is creating nearly 1 million square feet of research space to support pioneering discovery

Jovan Nelson, a first-year doctoral student in applied physics, adjusts a laser setting in the Stern lab. The enhanced research space is part of a renovation and expansion of Mudd Hall. Photo by Roger Anderson

Things feel a bit different inside Nathaniel Stern’s new optics lab.

“That’s in part because of the environmental control,” says Stern, physics and astronomy, pointing out that the lab’s temperature over long periods of time only fluctuates by a fraction of a degree Celsius. “This building was built from the ground up with things like vibration, humidity, and temperature control in mind. The goal is stability, and these new labs were designed for it.”

Stern’s new laboratory inside of the expanded Mudd Hall on Evanston’s north campus is one of a number of ongoing or recently completing space upgrades meant to strengthen Northwestern’s ability to produce breakthrough discovery. Thanks to an impressive burst of construction activity across the Evanston and Chicago campuses resulting in nearly 1 million gross square feet (GSF) of research space, new facilities are providing optimal lab designs for advanced instrumentation and enhanced collaboration.

Even before Stern, a fellow of the Northwestern Argonne Institute of Science and Engineering (NAISE) and member of Northwestern’s Materials Research Center, stepped foot in his new lab, he was applying for equipment grants and submitting proposals for experiments that he could not have completed inside his former Technological Institute space.

Stern’s research focuses on developing new methods of using light to study the unique properties of nanoscale systems that emerge from quantum physics. When materials are reduced to their fundamental size limits, new and often counter-intuitive behaviors appear that can be probed and manipulated with high precision using light. A controlled and stable environment with the capability to plug-in high-power electronics and cryogenics is necessary for the work.

Stern’s lab in the former Seeley G. Mudd Library building, 2233 Tech Drive, serves as just one example of the University’s continued commitment to infrastructure and growth that supports exemplary science. Mudd will also house the new Center for Fundamental Physics led by Gerald Gabrielse, physics and astronomy.

Mudd Hall reopened in September after 18 months of renovation. It expanded horizontally — each floor grew by 75 percent — and vertically by adding two floors. In total, Mudd added 185,000 GSF of space for state-of-the-art scientific research laboratories.

The library itself, a frequent study/work space for students, was reimagined to include enhanced study carrels and group study rooms; a dedicated laboratory for Geographic Information System consulting; open computer stations; and two classrooms. In addition, a maker space, boasting cutting-edge tools like 3D printers, will open next winter. The second floor remains connected to Tech via an enclosed skywalk, and now also links directly to Cook Hall.

“Our facilities are a vital part of Northwestern’s overall research ecosystem,” says Jay Walsh, vice president for research. “The Mudd Hall expansion demonstrates the University’s innovative approach to designing beautiful and highly functional laboratories. The addition of new space on both campuses has allowed us to provide world-class facilities to current researchers and to continue attracting the very best investigators to Northwestern.”

The first floor of the expanded Mudd building features numerous laboratories, including those led by Stern, Gabrielse, and Emily Weiss, chemistry.

“Our new space reduces the costs, in time and money, for our experiments and allows us to collect higher quality data because of its environmental controls,” says Weiss, who is working to understand the mechanisms by which energy is converted from one form to another within inorganic nanostructures. “The Mudd expansion shows a real commitment by the University to physical chemistry and, in particular, spectroscopy — the study of the interaction between matter and electromagnetic radiation.”

The third floor of Mudd will be occupied by the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, while the top two floors will be left unoccupied in anticipation of future growth in scientific research.

A second major project on the Evanston campus will create an A/B infill on the north side of Tech. The five-story addition, expected to be completed in 2019, will provide 50,000 GSF for McCormick School of Engineering researchers and be used in part by the Northwestern University Atomic and Nanoscale Characterization Experimental Center (NUANCE), one of more than 50 University Research Institutes and Centers at Northwestern.

Growth of Research Impact

Northwestern’s expanded infrastructure growth has coincided with its research capacity. The University’s sponsored research awards grew to $676.5 million last fiscal year, the largest amount in Northwestern’s history and a 12-fold increase since first reaching the $50-million threshold in 1979.

That figure mirrors a more than doubling of research space. On the Evanston campus, research space has grown from 1 million GSF since the mid-1980s to more than 2 million GSF today. When the Louis A. Simpson and Kimberly K. Querrey Biomedical Research Center is completed in 2019, the Chicago campus will have grown to more than 2 million GSF, over the same period of time.

“Although these projects can be disruptive to day-to-day campus activities, they provide the opportunity to modernize our facilities and expand our research capabilities,” says Phil Hockberger, associate vice president for research. “An ongoing Research Space Master Plan (RSMP), to be released this year, will provide a roadmap that addresses the space and infrastructure needs required to support existing and future research programs at Northwestern.”

The RSMP is led jointly by the Office of the Provost and the Office for Research and seeks to overcome the challenges of Northwestern’s geography along Lake Michigan’s coast; Evanston zoning regulations that place limits on building heights; and the density of facilities surrounding the “science complex” — a collection of buildings that includes Tech and those connected to Tech. On the Chicago campus, the opportunity for growth in research space is even greater.

Chicago Campus

When completed, the Simpson Querrey Biomedical Research Center will add 660,000 GSF of research space in Streeterville.

“This new state-of-the-art building will greatly enhance our research environment, adding new space for up to 80 faculty and their research teams,” says Rex Chisholm, associate vice president for research and vice dean of scientific affairs and graduate education at the Feinberg School of Medicine. “It’s innovative design will help us recruit the best faculty to Northwestern and because the building will be directly connected to our clinical affiliates, it should also become an important site for translational research.”

The 14-story Simpson Querrey building, connected floor-by-floor to the existing Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center, will house nine laboratory floors dedicated to biomedical research. Four floors each have been assigned to the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute and Feinberg, with one floor assigned to the Center for Synthetic Biology, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Simpson Querrey Institute for BioNanotechnology, and Center for BioInspired Electronics. The Perkins & Will-designed space has a future build-out capacity of more than 30 floors and 1 million square feet.

“Among the essential requirements for growing a research enterprise to be one of the 10 largest in the nation are infrastructure enhancements and appropriate use of space,” says Steven Matz, director of facilities and planning. “It’s important to note that future plans can’t merely renovate the existing vintage building inventory and expect to satisfy growth needs. Rather, there needs to be a twofold strategy in place to add square footage while also updating existing facilities to produce the science of the future. The Research Space Master Plan will provide the framework for achieving those goals over the next 20 years.”

By Roger Anderson