Yale Science Building arrives at a transformative moment for biology and beyond

Yale will create a community of scientists with a new teaching and research building that gathers faculty and students across disciplines to answer some of the most pressing questions about life on Earth.

Featuring a rooftop greenhouse, aquatics and insect labs, state-of-the-art imaging technology, a quantitative biology center, innovative physics labs, and a 500-seat lecture hall, the new, seven-level Yale Science Building will be a place where biologists, physicists, chemists, engineers, mathematicians, and other scientists collaborate as an integrated community.

“The Yale Science Building will inspire the ideas and create the kind of interaction that propels science,” said Yale President Peter Salovey. “We want to give our students and faculty the best tools, in the best environment, to pursue ideas that will change the world.”

The new building will transform the former J.W. Gibbs Laboratory on Science Hill into a hub for cross-disciplinary study at a pivotal time for science, as discoveries depend more on collaborative and cross-disciplinary research. Faculty and students will have an array of cutting-edge technology and facilities to study plants, animals, and microorganisms in specialized labs.

Equally important, officials said, is the human element at the heart of the Yale Science Building’s design. Student offices and gathering spaces will be interspersed with faculty offices, making collaboration and interaction a natural part of moving through the building. In addition, the building’s advanced labs will have enough room to allow for teaching opportunities to take place alongside high-level research.

“The design leverages not just all of the technology, but also our human potential to interact,” said Anna Pyle, the William Edward Gilbert Professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and professor of chemistry at Yale, and chair of the building committee for the new center. “In modern research, our students are our colleagues. You need to talk about all aspects of ongoing projects, and this building will contain spaces for interdisciplinary research that spans boundaries between physics and biology, as well as being at the intersection of computation, math, and biology. We’ve never had a facility as advanced as this.”

The New Haven firm Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects designed the outer shell of the new building. The interior work was designed by Stantec, which is located in Hamden, Conn. Completion of the project is scheduled for late 2019, but planning and preliminary work have already started.

Using roughly the same footprint as Gibbs, the Yale Science Building will have additional lab space and communal areas to boost its size to 280,300 square feet. In preparation for the project, the Department of Astronomy relocated from Gibbs to several buildings on Hillhouse Avenue in 2015. Other departments and programs are moving out of Gibbs, and remediation work will begin shortly.

“It’s a massive upgrade. These will be beautiful lab spaces,” said Mark Hochstrasser, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and department chair, and professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology. Of particular importance, he said, will be the Quantitative Biology Center, with a state-of-the-art cryo-electron microscope that can look at complexes and substructures within a cell in atomic detail.

“It will be a uniting technology for many people on campus,” Hochstrasser said. “There’s a revolution going on in biology, and we want to be a part of that.”

The new building is just the latest step in a historic period of construction for science facilities on campus.

On Science Hill, transformative renovations and improvements to the 93-year-old Sterling Chemistry Laboratory were completed in time for the fall 2016 semester. That work included new undergraduate laboratories, student common areas, teaching and research space, mechanical and electrical systems, and upgrades for accessibility and safety.

A renovation of Yale’s Wright Lab also wrapped up in August. Once the home of a nuclear particle accelerator, Wright Lab has been completely refashioned as a center for conducting cutting-edge research on neutrinos and dark matter — including machine shops and spaces to build large instruments and detectors that are vital in today’s physics research.

Meanwhile, construction of additional teaching labs and spaces for computer scientists and engineers continues beneath the Becton Center at the Yale School of Engineering and Applied Science. The work will be done by spring 2017.

Those projects will join other Yale science construction efforts finished in the past year. Last fall, the Yale Quantum Institute launched in renovated space on Hillhouse Avenue, and over the winter, the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies completed a seven-year renovation of Greeley Memorial Laboratory.

“What we are seeing is a dramatic expansion of resources for students and faculty on Science Hill,” said Steve Girvin, deputy provost for research and the Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics. “Just as the new, undergraduate chemistry labs are wonderful spaces to propel education in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) disciplines, and the reimagined Wright Lab will help redefine physics research, the new Yale Science Building will tap into a cross-disciplinary approach to science that sets Yale apart from its peers.”