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UMD's Swenson Science Building atrium view from the top of the stairs during opening ceremonies.

Opening ceremonies for the new James I. Swenson Science Building, viewed from the stairway above the atrium.

UMD dedicates Swenson Science Building

Generous donor and capital bonding create a jewel above Lake Superior

From the UMD News Service

Published September 15, 2005;
updated for Brief, September 21, 2005

More than 300 faculty and staff members, students, and dignitaries attended dedication ceremonies for the new $33 million James I. Swenson Science Building at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, September 16.

The building finished on schedule despite an act of extreme vandalism last November that caused more than $8 million in damages. For the ceremonies on Friday, the audience was jubilant as sunlight streamed through windows above and around the atrium.

Speakers included Chancellor Kathryn Martin, donors James and Susan Swenson, Board of Regents chair Anthony Baraga, College of Science and Engineering dean James Riehl, UMD student association president Tifany Varilek, and Swenson Scholar Neil Broummond. Renowned architect Carol Ross Barney also attended. (See box, below.)

Martin and Swenson cited the enormous impact the research and teaching to be done in the building will have on the world.

The three-level structure, which opened for classes at the beginning of fall semester, contains teaching, research, and administrative space for UMD's biology, chemistry, and biochemistry departments. The building has both a research wing and a teaching wing, and is the fourth new building constructed on the UMD campus since 2001.

The 110,000-square-foot building is named after Jim Swenson, a 1959 UMD chemistry graduate. Jim and Susan Swenson, through the Swenson Family Foundation, have given $10 million to UMD, including $2.5 million for scholarships. A gift of $7.5 million helped to fund the new building and provided the impetus for local legislative leaders, who led the way to secure $25.5 million in state funding.

"Jim Swenson has been a strong advocate for science education and undergraduate research opportunities as well as a great friend to UMD," says Duluth chancellor Kathryn A. Martin. "This state-of-the-art building will provide outstanding opportunities for learning and inquiry as our scientific knowledge advances at an amazing pace. UMD is enormously grateful to the Swenson Family Foundation and to our area legislators for making this wonderful building possible."

The new facility is designed to meet the needs of 21st-century science education and research, and to encourage collaborative learning. It contains 16 faculty student research labs, 16 teaching labs, a computer teaching lab, several research support rooms, a student study room, and a central classroom. Research labs are designed using an "open lab" concept to encourage interaction among all researchers in related disciplines. The open lab environment also enables spaces to expand and contract to accommodate changing research schedules.

The vision behind the building

Carol Ross Barney was the primary architect of the James I. Swenson Science Building. Her work has received numerous honors and awards including four Institute Honor Awards from the American Institute of Architects, the Federal Design Achievement Award from the National Endowment for the Arts/Presidential Design Awards Program, and 18 awards from the American Institute of Architects Chicago. Her drawings have been widely exhibited and collected by institutions that include the National Building Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Historical Society.

Ross Barney was the lead designer for the new U.S. Federal Campus in Oklahoma City, which replaced the Murrah Federal Building destroyed by terrorism in 1995.

The Swenson Science Building replaces laboratories built in 1949 (chemistry) and 1968 (biology), and will provide a high standard and a safe learning environment for complex experiments, research, and teaching. More than a thousand students per semester will receive instruction in the building. All first- and second-year chemistry, biochemistry, and biology laboratory classes will be taught there.

"By any measure, UMD is one of the leading institutions in the nation in terms of providing opportunities for undergraduate students to do research with a faculty member," says James Riehl, dean of the College of Science and Engineering (CSE). "During the last academic year, more than 100 CSE students were involved in an undergraduate research project. CSE students regularly present the results of their research at regional and national scientific meetings. The Swenson Science Building will allow us to enhance and expand this vital role in providing superior science education." The building's exterior features a combination of brick, stone, and metal, and includes a skyway over Kirby Drive connecting it to the adjacent Life Science Building. A large picture window on the front illuminates a two-story atrium and provides a full-scale view of the outdoors.

Nearing completion just outside the building is a towering sculpture titled Wild Ricing Moon by internationally known sculptor and environmental artist John David Mooney. The 89-foot-tall steel piece contains a large circle, 40 feet in diameter, representing the full, rice-harvesting moon of late summer--with outstretched, curving lines moving through it depicting the North Shore of Lake Superior and natural features of the region.

Last fall, vandals broke windows, discharged fire extinguishers, and left water faucets running on the third floor of the building's research wing. Three juveniles later admitted their involvement with the incident.

UMD currently enrolls 1,000 students majoring in chemistry, biochemistry, biology and pre-professional health science programs. Faculty members in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, and the Department of Biology presently oversee 17 externally funded research projects totaling over $2.4 million. The Department of Biology advises more than 700 students in several degree programs, more than any other department at UMD.

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