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Harvard Plans to Build Two New Science Centers

By Alex Ianculescu
Staff Reporter

Jeremy R. Knowles, Dean of Harvard University's Faculty of Arts and Sciences, announced last week a plan to build at least two new science centers. The announcement is part of the university's larger new effort to promote scientific research and education.

Harvard has already committed $70 million to this initiative and plans to invest between $150 million and $200 million over the next five years.

One new building, the Center for Genomics and Protenomics, will be devoted to genetics research, much like MIT's Whitehead Institute. The other center, to be called the Center for Imaging and Mesoscale Structures, will house research to investigate the area lying between the disciplines of quantum physics and classical physics.

"We profit at MIT by having strong Science programs at Harvard so I am very happy about their initiative," said Dean of Science Robert J. Birgeneau.

He added, however, that "it is clear that MIT will not be able to maintain its national and international leading role in science unless increasing commitments are made from the university to internal research support, infrastructure and undergraduate and graduate science education. Raising funds for these purposes should be a major goal for the upcoming campaign," Birgeneau said.

New center to investigate genes

The new Center for Genomics and Protenomics will concentrate research on understanding animal behavior, evolution, the multigenic basis of diseases and other complex biological phenomena, and on the control of many of these biological processes using small molecules.

David Nelson, the chair of Harvard's physics department, helped to plan for the imaging and mesoscale structures center, which will focus on the study of extremely small structures. Applications from such research could include the design of increasingly smaller computer processors with tremendous increases in speed and capacity.

"My colleagues and I see this as a pursuit of enormous intellectual excitement," Nelson said. "The laws of mechanics and electrical circuits, familiar from everyday experience, break down in the region we'll be exploring. We'll be looking at new materials that will provide a chance for revolutionary, rather than evolutionary, advances in many areas of science and technology."

"Both Genomics and Mesoscopic Physics are areas where MIT has pioneered and we currently have outstanding research and educational programs. Thus Harvard is trying to emulate us in these areas," Birgeneau said.

Harvard plans other projects

Other projects to support the sciences already are underway at Harvard. The Maxwell Dworkin Building and the Naito Laboratory, currently under construction, will provide laboratory, classroom, and office space for faculty and students in computer science and electrical engineering, and in chemistry and biology.

A new $20-million telescope in Chile is planned to expand the research capabilities of Harvard astronomers, and eight new faculty positions have been created for the physical and life sciences.

Money may also go toward programs on the design of sophisticated Web search engines to assist in scientific research, into research on the links between evolution and global climate change, and the relationship between brain physiology and behavior.

The science initiative, according to Knowles, is designed not only to secure Harvard's place as a leading research institution, but also to concentrate FAS resources on areas of maximum potential for education.Dean Knowles heads a faculty of more than 650 responsible for the education of 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students.

"We are in a period of remarkable scientific discovery that will clearly continue long into the future and will yield enormous benefits to society," said Harvard President Neil L. Rudenstine. "Enabling our faculty and students to keep fully abreast, as well as to lead, will require the kind of new investments that Harvard has determined to undertake."

The Initiative Process

This past summer, Knowles and six faculty colleagues met to identify critical fields of current and future scientific research. The group worked on pinpointing areas that will enhance Harvard's ability to recruit creative faculty and to attract talented students. The faculty members also devised ways to foster collaborative efforts in research and education within and across disciplinary lines.

"Outstanding scientific research often occurs at the boundaries of traditional disciplines," Knowles said, "and an institution like Harvard must continually seek the most exciting and fruitful areas of inquiry. In the best major universities, high-quality teaching and cutting-edge research are inseparable."

Harvard is nearing the completion of a successful capital campaign and has enjoyed remarkable returns on its endowment in recent years. "This is the moment to reshape our operations, chart new directions, and plan major investments for the coming decade," Knowles said.

Harvard is not the only university that has recently been devoting funds to the creation of new science and research centers. Two years ago the California Institute of Technology started work on a new center, according to Dr. Melvin Simon, Caltech's biology chairman at. The school has raised about $60 million of its $100 million goal.

Princeton University is undergoing a campaign to raise $60 million to support its Institute for Genomic Analysis.