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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University September 2, 2003 | Vol. 33 No. 1
New Chemistry Building Opens at Homewood

Workers put finishing touches on the new chemistry building last week as faculty and staff moved in.

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Center will be open to all Johns Hopkins researchers

By Michael Purdy

Faculty, staff and students last week began moving into the new $18 million, 50,000-square-foot chemistry building on the Homewood campus. The building replaces the antiquated 40-year-old Dunning Hall.

"The new building is going to be a significant improvement in the facilities for research available to the department," said Paul Dagdigian, chair of Chemistry. "I think it's a really beautiful building on the outside, and the [interior] architecture is fabulous. I'm confident that the design of support systems will make it a very functional building as well."

Gary Ostrander, vice dean for research and graduate education in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, said, "It's impossible to have a first-rate university without a strong chemistry department, and we really felt the need to support our Chemistry Department's continued ability to excel and expand."

In addition to the new building, which provides lab and office spaces for eight faculty members (one of whom the department anticipates hiring in the coming year) and their students, the completed construction includes an adjoining underground structure that will house the multidepartmental Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Center for Fundamental Studies of Biological Molecules.

Architectural detail

Craig Townsend, professor of chemistry and a member of the committee that guided the center's creation, said, "Large molecules are not static, and their behavior and their interactions with each other and with small molecules like inhibitors or drugs depend on the fact that they're not static--they bend and stretch to interact. And NMR is a technique which allows you to measure these things in addition to getting structural information," he explained.

The NMR center soon will house a 600 megahertz instrument and has room for installation of two or three more such instruments in the future. In October, a top-of-the-line 800 megahertz NMR unit will be delivered. The high-field spectrometers will allow scientists to use NMR to study more complicated systems with greater sensitivity. The center is housed in a new underground structure linked to lower levels of the new chemistry building and of Mudd Hall, home of the Biology Department.

Several faculty members characterized the creation of the new building as a case of "all the stars coming into alignment." When officials set out to renovate Dunning Hall after the renovation of Johns Hopkins' other major chemistry building, Remsen Hall, they determined that not only would it be impossible to renovate Dunning in phases, certain design characteristics of the building also would make the renovation cost as much as a new building.

The possibility of a new building was easily matched to a potential building site that had recently been identified in the new master plan for the campus, completed in 2000. This location was just a stone's throw away from Dunning, between the Johns Hopkins Club and Macaulay Hall. And the need for improved NMR facilities, which had been growing in urgency in recent years, also could be met through an expansion of the construction site.

Dagdigian and Ostrander praised the work of the architect, the Ballenger Corporation of Philadelphia, and the construction manager, Barton Mallow of Linthicum, Md.

Dagdigian pointed out that integrating the new building into its spot on campus required extensive physical renovations around the building. "It's not like just constructing a building out in the middle of an open field," Dagdigian commented. "Construction of a large new set of stairs, a loading dock, new parking to replace spaces knocked out by the new building and new pedestrian pathways were all required."

Dagdigian also noted that construction managers were able to keep the building very close to schedule despite significant weather-related delays like the blizzard of February 2003 and extensive rains this spring and summer.

Lab details.

The lab wing in the new building is constructed in a modular style that lets researchers release and acquire lab space as their research staffs shrink and grow over time. A separate wing houses office space. Also included in the new building are several open or shared instrument labs.

The new chemistry building was funded in part by a $2.6 million grant from the state of Maryland. Johns Hopkins also continues to seek private donations supporting the construction of the new facility.

Acquisition of the 800 megahertz spectrometer was made possible in large part through a grant from the National Science Foundation and matching grants from the departments of Biophysics in the School of Arts and Sciences on the Homewood campus and Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences in the School of Medicine on the East Baltimore campus. Additional funding was supplied by the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. Townsend praised the interdepartmental cooperation that made the new center possible and emphasized that the center will be open and accessible to researchers from all departments in the university.

"This really has been a pleasant and extremely rewarding process because everyone has come together to create a first-class research facility," Ostrander said.


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