Building Synergy

CUNY's Advanced Science Research Center, now in the works, will offer ultra-sophisticated tools to scientists University-wide.

Science Research Center building image

Safeguarding asthmatics by tracking airborne pollutants. Keeping people warm with tiny fuel cells powered by body chemistry. Treating severed spinal cords by spurring nerves to regrow. Speeding healing by delivering light under bandages. Making better raincoats by mimicking the structure of plants.

These are possible applications of research by University scientists—research that is poised to reach a higher level as CUNY prepares for work to start on the technologically sophisticated and visually sparkling Advanced Science Research Center.

When it opens in 2012, ASRC's 200,000 square feet will house an estimated $40 million to $50 million worth of instrumentation ranging from functional magnetic resonance imaging equipment for studying brain activity to a rooftop observatory for studying the atmosphere.

Each floor of the $300 million ASRC will focus on one of five flagship areas recommended by a University-wide faculty task force: environmental sensing, nanotechnology, neuroscience, photonics and structural biology.

"We designed this research center to promote and encourage University-wide scientific collaboration," said Chancellor Matthew Goldstein. "Given the caliber of our professors and doctoral students, we expect that the ASRC will be a crucible for breakthroughs."

The new research building is the centerpiece of the Decade of Science (2005-2015), a comprehensive plan to position the University as a premier research institution. Investments include more than $1 billion for new facilities; "cluster hires" of more than 80 faculty members so far in key areas of science, technology, engineering and math; restructuring Ph.D. programs in sciences and engineering; boosting financial aid for doctoral students; and initiatives to train more teachers of middle- and high-school science and math. The Chancellor won funding for the ASRC in 2004 by convincing governmental leaders of the financial and scientific efficiency inherent in a single, shared facility for cutting-edge research rather than duplicate buildings on many campuses.

"This center will provide some of our most inspired scientists with powerful instrumentation that is far too expensive for any single campus to acquire and maintain," said Vice Chancellor for Research Gillian Small, who was appointed on July 1. She has managed the ASRC project since 2003 as University dean for research.

As the concept gained momentum, a faculty task force recommended areas of strength that could be leveraged for national prominence. "The goal was to identify areas where an investment now would still be of national and international importance 10 or 15 years from now," she said.

Faculty will apply to a peer committee to work in the labs. The goal will be to maximize usage. Some researchers will need bench space for a day, while others will require space for themselves and/or graduate students or postdoctoral associates for a semester or longer.

"Our design mantra was 'loose fit, long life,' because we wanted to have flexible space and to change as technology changes," said Iris Weinshall, the vice chancellor for facilities planning, construction and management.

The ASRC, situated near the southern perimeter of City College's uptown Manhattan campus, will house about 50 professional staffers, including some 20 faculty members affiliated with a CUNY campus but whose grants will run through the facility, helping to fund its operations. An executive director will run the building and be its chief fundraiser. A nationally known scientist will direct each lab. Several Ph.D.-level scientists will assist visiting CUNY faculty members in each area to ensure optimal use of the equipment. And staff technicians will maintain the devices.

Some laboratory directors will bring their own research teams. That's the case with the first director to be recruited, Charles Vörösmarty, who is overseeing environmental sensing. He arrived in September with a small team, new hires and postdoctoral students from the University of New Hampshire's Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space, where he was a research full professor and directed its Water Systems Analysis Group. He joined the vigorous environmental sensing faculty at City College's Grove School of Engineering. Vörösmarty intends to make the ASRC a magnet for regional and national study of water and the environment.

Architects Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates of New York City designed the ASRC. Its glass façade will rise above a footing of gray brick that echoes the gray Manhattan schist that covers the neo-Gothic buildings on City College's north campus. Flad and Associates, a Wisconsin firm specializing in science facilities, is the architect of record on the project and designed the labs.

Those firms also designed a companion four-story, 200,000-square-foot science research and instructional building for City College to supplement the college's Robert E. Marshak Hall, a 1960s structure that is under renovation.

Anticipating future needs, the University has commissioned preliminary design work on ASRC Phase II, an adjacent building of about the same size. Excavation of the bedrock beneath all three buildings will occur simultaneously, but the Phase II site will then be filled in to await construction. Removing all of the bedrock now will minimize future interference with sensitive instruments at the ASRC and City College building, as well as at the New York Structural Biology Center just a short distance away on the campus. The structural biology center is a consortium of research institutions including Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, The City University of New York, Columbia University, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York University, The Rockefeller University, Wadsworth Center of the New York State Department of Health, the Joan and Sanford Weill Medical College of Cornell University and SUNY.

Other New Facilities

Building for Science

The Decade of Science is bringing new facilities to other campuses as well. Among them are:

  • New science buildings at Brooklyn, Hunter and Lehman Colleges. (For Lehman, see "CUNY Grows Greener," CUNY Matters, March 2008.)
  • A new addition to Queens College's Remsen Hall that will house science labs, to be completed in 2009.
  • Instructional and research lab renovations at Brooklyn, City, Hunter, Lehman and Queens Colleges, slated for completion in 2009.
  • A new home for the School of Science and Technology at Medgar Evers College.
  • New buildings that will include some science facilities at John Jay College and the New York City College of Technology.
  • Upgrades for the labs at the College of Staten Island.