Chemistry: Essential to Rhode Island’s Future

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The bedrock foundation for education and economic development

On November 2, Rhode Islanders will be asked to vote on a $78 million higher education bond referendum (#2) that includes $61 million to finance a modern chemistry facility at URI. The new Center for Chemical and Forensic Sciences will replace the outmoded and nearly 60-year-old Pastore Hall, which opened in 1953 when 800 students took chemistry courses each year. Today more than 6,000 students take chemistry courses, and about 40 percent of all URI degree programs require at least one chemistry course.

“Chemistry is the foundation to practically every important area of endeavor, whether it’s the health sciences, biotechnology, energy, the environment, pharmacy, nursing or high technology,” says URI President David M. Dooley. “As Rhode Islanders who are interested in the education of their children and in the economic future of the state head to the polls on November 2, we want them to remember that chemistry is the building block, the bedrock foundation.”

“As we look to combat disease, improve the health of Rhode Islanders, Americans and people around the world; as we look for solutions to the global need for energy and sustainable development; as we look to provide more efficiency and better productivity in many of our core industries, what you will find is that research and education in the chemical sciences is absolutely necessary,” added Dooley.

Completes Health and Life Sciences Quad

The Center will also be the keystone in the establishment of the University’s leadership position in the health and life sciences, as it joins the new College of Pharmacy, the Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences, and the College of Nursing in the new North Science Quad on the Kingston Campus.

“The development of the North Science Quad was conceived about five years ago as a way to build community among scholars,” states Vice President for Administration Robert Weygand. “It will physically and socially connect the health and life sciences faculty and students to increase opportunities for collaboration, strengthen multi-disciplinary research and expand relationships with corporate partners and other institutions.”

Twice the size of Pastore, the new 120,000-square-foot Center will have triple the amount of space for teaching labs and nearly double the space for research labs. The total student capacity in laboratories will increase by more than 50 percent, from 1,200 to 1,900 students per semester, addressing a critical bottleneck that has hampered growth in pharmacy, biotechnology, engineering, and many other fields.

Drives the Research Frontier

“We’re not just asking to build a physical infrastructure with leading edge teaching and research space, we are asking to build the sustainable supply of human talent and human ingenuity that is necessary to drive innovation, to drive the frontiers forward in research,” said Dooley.

Chemistry faculty are already leaders in research involving advanced batteries for energy efficient automobiles, developing new ways to improve image resolution in MRI scans, and creating new clinical methods for earlier disease detection. They are also among the nation’s key resources for research and training in the detection of explosives and the battle against terrorism. Chemistry faculty head the Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence in Explosives, partnered with Northeastern University and headquartered at URI.

“We are developing intellectual property that will help drive the economic engine for Rhode Island and improve our quality of life. This facility will allow faculty to compete more effectively for grants and move scientific discoveries into the marketplace more rapidly,” said Winifred Brownell, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

“Modern facilities energize students and faculty alike,” said William Euler, professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry. “All of our talented young faculty were attracted to URI, in part, by the possibilities with such a facility—to be able to train our undergraduate and graduate students in a cutting-edge environment, while tackling significant scientific and technological problems. Students and potential students are enthused because they know it will provide them the best experience to compete and succeed in the job market,” added Euler.

“People do ask how this project is connected to creating jobs in Rhode Island,” said Dooley. “My response is that: In addition to building the 21st century workforce in the state, we need to build the capacity to generate new employers—that’s how you create new jobs. The kind of activity that will take place in this facility will encourage innovation and the application of those discoveries—the pathway to new growth in economic development.”

The project itself is expected to directly create approximately 950 jobs over the next three years; these jobs will span the construction trades, and also include architecture, engineering, and management.

“The building is designed to last 100 years,” added Dooley, “and chemistry will continue to be the science behind many of the frontiers that will be so important into the next century.”