Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is to deliver the commencement address at the University of Massachusetts Amherst today. It’s the second time within a month the governor has been on the flagship campus for a celebratory event.
Gov. Baker in April joined UMass officials, faculty, and local elected office holders to cut a ribbon at the new Physical Sciences Building – a state-of-art laboratory center built with substantial state funding.
Recounting a tour of the facility, Baker said he was impressed by the passion of the student-researchers he spoke with.
"The fire in the belly that came with it was really meaningful and moving to me," said Baker.
Funding for the $101.8 million project included $85 million from the state. Baker said it is an investment that will be returned when UMass graduates fill the workforce pipeline for the state’s innovation economy.
"And this building, along with the other two science reconstructions that have taken place in this quad, really I think positions this university to continue to be a national and in some instance global leader in STEM and especially the physical sciences here," Baker said.
The 95,000-square foot building opened last summer. It has specialized laboratories with 130 lab benches for the physics and chemistry departments. There are no classrooms.
Current research is being conducted in the areas of health, sustainable energy, and electronics, according to Mark Tuominen, Associate Dean of the College of Natural Sciences.
"In the chemistry side there is a lot of synthetic chemistry, these are people who make materials and molecules for specialized purposes," said Tuominen. "And in phyisics it is primarily condensed matter physics, it used to be called solid state physics, and also nuclear physics. All experimental programs."
The faculty in the new facility has been collectively awarded a total of $127 million in research grants, according to UMass.
Overall, spending on research in the University of Massachusetts system reached $670 million last year, according to UMass President Marty Meehan.
" That research is critical to the innovation economy in the Commonwealth. It is critical to the education of our students. It is critical to the future of our state, this country and the world," said Meehan. "What is happening here on our flagship campus is extraordinary."
The brand new science building incorporates the reconstructed West Experiment Station, one of the university’s most historic buildings, explained Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy.
"The West Experiment Station was named after the Hatch Act was passed by Congress in 1887. It provided state colleges with the resources to open experimental stations and conduct much needed basic and applied research on argiculture. Our campus responded by opening the nation's first experimental station at a state college," said Subbaswamy.
Officials at the ribbon-cutting also pointed to the new building’s many energy-saving features that earned it a Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.