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Whitehead Institute Dedicates New Research Wing

By Orli. G Bahcall

The dedication of a new research wing at the Whitehead Institute was made on Monday.

The new wing adds approximately 76,000 square feet, increasing the space available for research and training by more than 45 percent.

Guest speakers at the dedication included Senator Paul E. Tsongas, Director of the National Institute of Health Harold Varmus, and President Charles M. Vest.

The Whitehead Institute is a non-profit independent research institute affiliated with MIT through its teaching activities. It has contributed substantially to the Human Genome Project research and has been active in genetic and biomedical research.

The Institute was founded 14 years ago by Jack Whitehead, and the new wing is named the John, Peter, and Susan wing in honor of Whitehead's three children.

Whitehead has enjoyed a close connection with MIT over the past decade. "We at MIT are very proud of the Whitehead and look forward to many more years of fruitful scientific investigation," Vest said.

Senator Tsongas opened the dedication ceremony by looking back on the things that made its founding possible. Tsongas said that the "free enterprise system that rewards innovation and risk and hard work gave Jack Whitehead the ability" to create the Institute.

He said that Whitehead thrives largely because of its proximity to MIT, which has "the great capacity to be innovative." MIT also provides a critical mass of young investigators that provide an essential base, "and the values of their research must be appreciated," he said.

In addition to being a testimony to Jack Whitehead, Tsongas said that Whitehead is "in a more fundamental sense a tribute to the country we live in and to the genius that made this possible."

Whitehead Aims to Educate

The Whitehead dedication marks the beginning of a very exciting era at Whitehead, important to research worldwide, said Director of Whitehead Gerald R. Fink.

Foremost, Whitehead is a "place to nurture young minds and foster innovative science," Fink said.

"One of the reasons behind the meteoric rise of the Whitehead Institute has been our ability to support new ideas at the very earliest stages of development- taking a chance on brilliant young scientists eager to extend the boundaries of their chosen fields," Fink said.

"The new facilities will ensure that our young researchers continue to have the tools and resources they need to pursue novel ideas- solving basic science problems in ways that yield practical benefits for all of us," he added.

"Today we dedicate the new wing to the young scientists of the next generation that will make our lives and the lives of our children better," Fink said.

NIH Director Harold Varmus' keynote address attributed the growth of the Whitehead family to several factors.

Whitehead's "strong linkage to MIT offers prestige, wonderful students, and many disciplines," he said.

Varmus also said that the tone of the work at the Institute was unusual and powerful.

The environment fostered here is one "in which serious work is done in playful manner," he said. "Science at Whitehead is a playful, joyful activity that incorporates fun with seriousness," he added.

Professor of Biology Gene Brown, who served as chair of the Department of Biology when Whitehead was created, recalls the support of the faculty in building the new Institute.

"We knew all along it would be a huge success," Brown said. "It is great to have the really top notch professors in Whitehead" as part of our faculty.

"In my 14 years here, it is incredible what a community we have formed," Whitehead Professor and Director of the Human Genome Center Eric Lander said.

The most satisfying part of his time here, Lander said, has been "watching young scientists launch new projects and grow into international leaders. The secret: Never letting on what might be impossible."

Faculty members also agree that science at Whitehead is fun. "People here strive to be the best because they love it," said Whitehead Professor Terry Orr-Weaver. The Orr-Weaver lab will be expanding and moving to a space in the new wing.

Undergraduate learning stressed

Undergraduates working in Whitehead laboratories were also invited to the dedication. They expressed enthusiasm about the opportunity to be a part of the leading research institution and the Whitehead family.

"Whitehead is a great place- we are very pleased that faculty at Whitehead are so involved with undergraduate education at MIT," said Sarah Tegen '97, president of the biology undergraduate student association.

"Whitehead has been undoubtedly the most rewarding academic experience I could dream of," said Edmund T. Karam '98, a UROP student in the Lodish lab.