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Of Synergy and Science

Author: Andy Fuller

Cross-disciplinary research building anchors new research quad

Change sometimes happens slowly, then all at once. On the northeast side of Notre Dame’s campus, a new quadrangle has emerged on space that seemingly just days ago was occupied by a parking lot and sidewalks. Anchoring this new quad on its east side is the state-of-the-art, 220,000 square foot McCourtney Hall of Molecular Science and Engineering. Its opening comes as shifts in the broader research community are hastening a change in how scientific discoveries are taking place.

“You can’t do anything these days without working with someone else, and usually in a very different discipline,” said Brian Baker, the Rev. John A. Zahm Professor of Structural Biology and chair of the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry within the College of Science. Faculty from Baker’s department are among those who began working at McCourtney Hall when the building opened for the fall semester 2016.

“Chemistry and biochemistry are fundamental disciplines,” Baker said. “Everything from medicinal chemistry to drug discovery to cancer biology, so much of it depends on fundamental chemistry and biochemistry.”

Facilitating interdisciplinary discoveries is not just a stated goal for the work being done at McCourtney Hall; it was a guiding principle of the very design of the building. Researchers from two Colleges – Engineering and Science – will join forces in McCourtney to tackle three key programmatic areas: analytical sciences and engineering, chemical and biomolecular engineering, and drug discovery. They’ll do so in spaces intended to foster interaction during which common challenges may surface, and innovative solutions may result. Notre Dame vice president for research Robert J. Bernhard said that even includes informal interaction among researchers.

“When we talked to people who worked in places like this, we heard anecdotes about people having lunch together, discussing each other’s challenges,” Bernhard said. “All of the sudden, they do a little collaborative background work, write a proposal, and they have a research project,” Bernhard said.

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Originally published by Andy Fuller at on October 24, 2016.