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The University of Utah College of Science held a groundbreaking ceremony on March 31 for the Gary and Ann Crocker Science Center, which will occupy the historic George Thomas Building on Presidents Circle. The center, to be completed in fall 2017, will house classrooms, labs and a technology incubator space, with the intent of fostering interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation.
During the groundbreaking, held on Presidents Circle in front of the under-renovation George Thomas Building and in the shadow of a construction crane, College of Science Dean Henry S. White welcomed attendees and noted that the science center had been in the planning stages for eight years. He described the facilities the future center will contain, including the Center for Cell and Genome Science, a biomedical imaging facility and a dozen research laboratories. Nearly every undergraduate student at the U will pass through the Crocker Science Center at some point, White said, and will be able to witness scientific discovery happen in the technology incubator space.
University of Utah President David W. Pershing recounted the history of the George Thomas Building, originally erected in 1935 as the George Thomas Library and named after Thomas, who presided over the university from 1921-1941. In 1968, the building could no longer support the weight of the library’s growing collection, and was converted into the Utah Museum of Natural History in 1969. The museum moved to its current location at the Rio Tinto Center in 2011.
The trajectory of university growth during Thomas’ administration continues today, Pershing said, and the Crocker Science Center is poised to become “the newest, most modern interdisciplinary science building” at the university, a place where connections between disciplines, between students, and between science and business can be forged.
Ruth V. Watkins, senior vice president for Academic Affairs, said that the center “will strengthen the very foundation of the University of Utah,” and added that the center will support the university’s mission to provide a quality educational experience for students, including involvement in research. Mathematics senior Mackenzie Simper recounted her academic journey, beginning with childhood trips to the museum and leading to research in mathematics, research she plans to continue at the University of Cambridge as a Churchill Scholar.
“Research was the driving force behind my motivation to study math,” Simper said.
Recent graduate Judy Zhu spoke about the opportunities afforded by the College of Science that led to publication of her honors thesis as a featured cover article in the Journal of Organic Chemistry. Zhu, the first in her family to attend college, thanked donors “as a student who appreciates the gift of opportunity.”
Gary L. Crocker, a life sciences entrepreneur and biomedical executive, told of the conversation eight years ago that led to the idea for the Crocker Science Center. He had met with then-dean of the College of Science, Pierre Sokolsky, and conveyed that pharmaceutical companies were having difficulty finding scientists proficient in mathematical biology, people who were “interdisciplinary and had that dual vocabulary,” Crocker said. Crocker and Sokolsky were discussing the fact that the U is one of the few schools to offer a mathematical biology program when the saw signs around the George Thomas Building regarding the museum’s move. Crocker and Sokolsky both immediately had the same idea.
“The College of Science deserves this facility,” Crocker said.
Pointing to the examples of tech and biotech companies proliferating around Utah, Crocker said that the health of our economy depends on science-based innovators. But the essence of the Crockers’ vision, he said, is the impact on individuals’ lives.
“By providing world-class facilities, Ann and I hope our legacy is to enable an educational experience that will create opportunities for tens of thousands of students who will build lives of dignity and substantial contribution,” Crocker said. “The fruits of their lives will ripple through society.”
The event concluded with program participants unveiling a rendering of the completed center’s façade. The center’s research laboratories are scheduled to open in October 2017, and classrooms are expected to open in spring 2018.
Paul Gabrielsen is a science writer at University Marketing and Communications. If you have an interesting story idea, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.