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University of Maryland Breaks Ground on New $116M Building With Colorful Chemistry Display

Mon August 30, 2021 - Northeast Edition

Smoke billows out of canisters to celebrate the groundbreaking ceremony of the new chemistry building on Aug. 24, 2021. (Joe Ryan/The Diamondback photo)
Smoke billows out of canisters to celebrate the groundbreaking ceremony of the new chemistry building on Aug. 24, 2021. (Joe Ryan/The Diamondback photo)

The University of Maryland (UM) held a groundbreaking ceremony Aug. 24 for a new $116 million, 105,000-sq.-ft. building that will serve the school's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

When finished, the College Park campus structure will provide space for research and innovations in fields like advanced materials, energy storage, nanoscience, quantum chemistry and drug discovery and delivery, according to the school.

"Thanks to investment by the state of Maryland and generous partners, this new facility gives us a competitive edge at a critical time to tackle grand challenges with leading technologies," noted UM president Darryll J. Pines in his comments at the event.

The state's capital budget funded $105 million, reported, an education online news site.

The building will feature a total of 34 research labs, two core research facilities, and about 13,000 sq. ft. of collaboration space. It also will have a grand colloquia and events venue for conferences and celebrations, in addition to a dozen smaller meeting and huddle rooms.

"This new building will expand our legacy of leadership in the chemical sciences," said Amitabh Varshney, dean of UM's College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences. "In this new chemistry building, our faculty and students will create nanomaterials for next-generation biosensors, fabrics and batteries; develop biomolecules functionalized to treat human diseases; and explore the chemistry required for quantum devices."

The new chemistry building was designed by Ballinger, a Philadelphia-based architectural firm, and its construction is being performed by Whiting-Turner Contracting Company, a nationwide builder with home offices in Baltimore.

The facility's design and construction will make the structure at least LEED Silver certified — a rating that signifies achievements in sustainability in buildings, according to the chemistry and biochemistry department's website. Basic climate control also will be built into the UM facility, a critical element in a research environment but often lacking in the old chemistry building.

The labs within the building will be created to be adaptable for any research in the molecular sciences, UM noted, and students and faculty will have the opportunity to engage in innovative research in areas such as quantum chemistry and biochemistry.

The UM facility is scheduled to open to students in 2023.

"We aim to be a Top 10 chemistry and biochemistry program, and this new building is the physical catalyst necessary to help us achieve that goal," said Janice Reutt-Robey, who serves as the chair and professor of UM's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Chemistry Display Kicks Off Event

Pines, Varshney and Reutt-Robey were joined at the kickoff event by state politicians, including Maryland state Sen. Guy Guzzone and House of Delegates member Maggie McIntosh in a white tent on Stadium Drive next to the chemistry and biochemistry complex.

They, and the other guests on hand, were treated to a colorful display of chemistry in action prior to the ceremony, noted the Diamondback, UM's independent student newspaper.

Before speeches commenced, red, white, and gold smoke billowed from black pillars outside the tent. Nearby was UM's old Chemistry Building structure, one wing of which was demolished earlier in August to make way for the new facility.

The event's speakers put on safety goggles and joined five students in white coats. Each speaker then poured a red liquid from a test tube into a black vessel that began to smoke. Finally, one of the students emptied liquid from a larger bottle into the container, enveloping the stage in a large cloud of smoke to officially begin the ceremony.

The event was seen as a celebration of science and innovation by McIntosh, who underscored the importance of investing in research, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"It is science that is leading us through this," she told the Diamondback.

In her comments, UM Provost Jennifer Rice highlighted the value of investing in future potential. Infrastructure, she said, is key to securing that potential.

"[It] is limitless, but it requires modern and safe research, and collaboration spaces where students and faculty can learn from one another as they investigate real-world problems," she said.

Besides symbolizing the bright future of UM's chemistry department, the sparkling new facility also will help with recruitment efforts, explained Reutt-Robey.

"Our old building with its obsolete infrastructure was truly holding us back from opportunities to build on our discoveries and advance in important lines of research," she told the gathering.

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