Inspiration and collaboration: Reimagining Yale science

A decade of investment and leadership has led to a science renaissance across campus. Fourth in a series.
Mark Mamula working with two colleagues in the lab.

Research scientist Hester Doyle, left, Professor of Medicine Mark Mamula, and research associate Renelle Gee confer in Mamula’s lab at Yale School of Medicine. (Photo by Allie Barton)

This story is the fourth in a series about Yale’s evolution under President Peter Salovey as he prepares to return to the faculty at the end of this month.

One recent afternoon, physicist Larry Gladney, dean of science for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Phyllis A. Wallace Dean of Diversity and Faculty Development, took the elevator to the top floor of Kline Tower.

Windows dominate this space, part of a dramatic renovation completed in 2023 that transformed Kline, the tallest building on campus, into a new home for Yale’s departments of mathematics, astronomy, statistics and data science, and a portion of physics.

Directly below, around a landscaped quad, are the Yale Science Building, opened in 2019, with its striking rooftop greenhouse, and the renovated Sterling Chemistry Laboratory, completed in 2016 with state-of-the-art teaching labs for five science departments.

Like other new science spaces built on campus over the past several years, these buildings are fitted with glass walls, open areas to gather and confer, kitchen spaces, central meeting rooms, and better views of the outside world to see and be seen.

For many years, science took place in closed-off, windowless areas, places that, taken by themselves, were not inspiring,” Gladney said. “We’ve embraced the idea that a place can be inspiring. It can be friendly, appealing, inviting — a place to do great work.”

Fourteenth floor of Kline Biology Tower
In the renovated Kline Biology Tower — which has been reimagined as a hub for mathematical, statistical, and data-driven research — a new event space on the 14th floor boasts 360-degree views of Science Hill and New Haven. (Photo by Allie Barton)

These state-of-the-art spaces offer just one snapshot of the ways that investment in science, engineering, and health sciences has transformed the campus during Peter Salovey’s tenure as Yale president, which began in 2013. A key priority has been to invest in Yale’s ability to hasten scientific breakthroughs in areas of greatest urgency and potential impact.

Taken as a whole, Yale’s scientific endeavors during Salovey’s stewardship have been stunningly comprehensive. From Science Hill to 100 College Street, Yale School of Medicine to West Campus, Yale scientists are doing field-leading work in planetary solutions, neuroscience, and quantum science and engineering. And a series of planned projects in the coming years will transform the Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science and the Yale School of Public Health.

Science at Yale is a university-wide endeavor — encompassing the Schools of Medicine, Nursing, and Public Health, the School of the Environment, the School of Engineering & Applied Science, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and beyond,” said Salovey. “Our investment in the sciences reflects its fundamental role in understanding the world around us and meeting the most difficult challenges that face us.”

As part of a series of university-wide academic priorities, the University Science Strategy Committee was charged with recommending the most promising areas for investment in the sciences, which were outlined in the committee’s 2018 report. “Yale must invest strategically in these areas to remain a great research university and meaningfully contribute to addressing the world’s present and future challenges,” the report noted.

Guided by the USSC report, we have made bold investments to advance science and engineering,” said Yale Provost Scott Strobel, who chaired the science strategy committee. “These investments have fostered collaboration, supporting research across scales and systems. Our work to build bridges between disciplines is strengthening Yale’s ability to address complex problems that cannot be solved in one lab or department alone.”

Added Gladney, “The building investment here is huge, but that’s not the whole story. It is a complete re-envisioning of science at Yale. We’re not trying to reproduce some other institution’s version of science.

We’re doing something new, while still being Yale.”

Science Hill as viewed from the top of Hillhouse Ave.
Major projects on Science Hill — including construction of a new Yale Science Building, which opened in 2019, and historic renovations to the Yale Peabody Museum and Kline Tower (center) — offer just one snapshot of the ways that investment in science, engineering, and health sciences has transformed the campus during Peter Salovey’s tenure as Yale president. (Photo by Daniel Havlat)

In new directions’

Up the hill from Kline Tower in the Class of 1954 Chemistry Research Building, Sarah Slavoff, an associate professor of chemistry, caught up on a bit of administrative work in her first-floor office.

Slavoff, who is finishing a two-year Sloan Research Fellowship that honors early career scientists considered rising stars in their field, often shuttles between her Science Hill office and her laboratory at West Campus. She arrived at Yale in 2014, a year after Salovey became the university’s president.

Her research includes questions relating to the human genome: Have we discovered every human gene? If not, how do we find the remaining ones? If we find them, how do we learn what they do? It is work that brings Slavoff into collaboration not only with other chemists, but also with molecular biologists, biophysicists, and others.

I came here because of the intellectual community here, the really cool intersection of chemistry, biology, and RNA science that goes on at Yale,” she said. “I learned right away that the scientific community here is far more collegial and collaborative than I even dreamed. People here reach out to you and help you take your science in new directions.”

President Salovey looking through a microscope.
In 2019, Yale President Peter Salovey, left, with Joseph Wolenski from the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, peers into a microscope in the Yale Science Building, which has become a central hub for interdisciplinary collaboration on campus. (Photo by Michael Marsland)

Creating new and renovated spaces that encourage that kind of intellectual collision and research collaboration has remade the Yale campus, from Science Hill and downtown New Haven to West Campus.

In 2017, a sweeping renovation created new high-tech labs and maker spaces at Wright Laboratory, where researchers are designing and constructing precision instruments for bold experiments in nuclear and particle physics. Surrounding the lab, the first wave of projects has begun to prepare for the construction of an addition to Wright Laboratory, a new Advanced Instrumentation Development Center, and the Physical Sciences and Engineering Building. These projects, in what is known as the Upper Science Hill Development, also include an expanded geothermal energy network constructed beneath some of the site.

Proposed Upper Science Hill Development

Proposed Upper Science Hill Development
The proposed site includes the Physical Sciences and Engineering Building, an addition to Wright Laboratory, and a new Advanced Instrumentation Development Center, among other facilities.

Near downtown New Haven, 100 College St., completed in 2023, establishes a new home for the departments of psychology, neuroscience, and the Wu Tsai Institute. The building stands as a vital connection between the School of Medicine (YSM), the School of Public Health (YSPH), and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, as well as New Haven’s growing biotech sector.

Salovey’s commitment to science, innovation, and technology has also made it possible to recruit internationally renowned experts and leaders in biomedicine to Yale, said Dr. Nancy Brown, dean of Yale School of Medicine.

His vision in charging the University Science Strategy Committee to identify promising areas for investment in the sciences has led to transformative new hubs for collaboration and research, including the Wu Tsai Institute, as well as the Stephen and Denise Adams Center for Parkinson’s Disease Research, the Biomedical Informatics and Data Science department within the School of Medicine, and Yale’s participation in the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, a New York-based biomedical research hub that aims to bioengineer immune cells to detect the earliest stages of diseases.

In coalescing the science community across the University and strengthening the infrastructure related to research, these investments advance discovery and facilitate breakthroughs, while positioning Yale as a world leader in science and medicine and establishing New Haven as a national hub for the life sciences,” Brown said.

In addition, on Yale’s West Campus the university has added new labs and research facilities, including a cryo-electron microscopy lab, established in 2017, a new aberration correction electron microscope, and a phalanx of institutes (devoted to energy, nanobiology, cancer, biomolecular design, microbial sciences, cultural heritage, and systems biology). It also is home to the School of Nursing (YSN); in 2022, the university announced a significant investment in YSN — along with YSPH and YSM — as part of its commitment to developing future leaders in the health professions.

The university’s transformative investments have also included a reimagining of how science is conducted and supported at the university — creating new momentum to address urgent challenges.

These projects and investments are all about giving faculty and students access to advanced technologies, resources, and expertise to carry out transformative research,” said Mike Crair, vice provost for research. “This research addresses issues that concern nearly every community — disease, climate change, data security, cognition, and others. The more complex the problem, the more interdisciplinary collaboration within and between fields is necessary. Our commitments reflect our efforts to connect researchers across campus to catalyze discoveries.”

One signature initiative, Yale Planetary Solutions (YPS), emblematizes this multi-disciplinary approach. The university-wide effort seeks to find novel solutions to environmental problems such as climate change and biodiversity loss, with virtually every academic discipline and Yale unit involved. A full renovation is planned of Osborn Memorial Laboratories, on the southwest corner of Science Hill, which will become the intellectual hub for activities related to YPS, among others.

Since its launch in 2020, YPS has awarded dozens of seed grants for interdisciplinary research. It has also spurred the creation of other major university initiatives, including the Yale Center for Natural Carbon Capture, a hub for cutting-edge science in understanding natural processes that sequester carbon from the air and store it in the environment, and the Center for Geospatial Solutions, a new hub for research, training, and infrastructure in the fields of geospatial science, data, and analysis.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the School of Public Health garnered national headlines as a leader in the development of saliva-based COVID-19 testing and its experts helped inform both national policy and campus guidance. In 2022, Yale announced that the School of Public Health will become an independent professional school at Yale, rather than a department within the School of Medicine, allowing it to continue to advance its field, with plans to develop new facilities.

Yale School of Public Health
Yale School of Public Health (Photo by Dan Renzetti)

I am forever grateful to President Salovey for making it possible for the Yale School of Public Health to transition into independence,” said Dr. Megan L. Ranney, dean of the School of Public Health, who joined Yale in 2023.

Although our school has a storied history, we were stymied by its anachronistic structure. Peter's vision of the importance of growing our leadership and real-world impact, and his understanding of the depth and breadth of the field, which goes far beyond pandemic prevention, is, honestly, the reason I'm here today,” Ranney said.

Similarly, the School of Engineering and Applied Science was reorganized to operate as a distinct faculty, and a significant investment was made to add 30 new faculty members.

Making engineering an independent school was probably the most critical and consequential piece of university administration in the last 50 years for engineering at Yale,” said Jeffrey Brock, dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science and the Zhao and Ji Professor of Mathematics. Brock also was the inaugural FAS dean of science.

Scientists working on a neutrino detector
(Photo by Mara Lavitt)

The approval of the Physical Sciences and Engineering Building, as well as the plan to rebuild the lower Hillhouse area of campus, are 100-year-level decisions that put engineering at Yale into a new echelon relative to peer institutions,” Brock added.

Elsewhere, the university created new institutes to explore fundamental questions — the Wu Tsai Institute, the Yale Quantum Institute, the Yale Institute for Global Health — and find new avenues of exploration through collaboration.

Telling the story of science

Burke Hall of Dinosaurs at the Yale Peabody Museum
The Burke Hall of Dinosaurs in the newly renovated Yale Peabody Museum, which re-opened to the public in early 2024. (Photo by Dan Renzetti)

A month before the re-opening of the Yale Peabody Museum, David Skelly, the museum’s director, deftly threaded his way through millions of years of natural history — past the terrifying turtle Archelon, the 7-foot-tall flightless bird Gastornis, and the aquatic apex predator Tylosaurus — and stopped beneath the tail of a 65-foot-long Brontosaurus in the Burke Hall of Dinosaurs.

The way we’ve reimagined our Burke Hall of Dinosaurs is extraordinary,” said Skelly, who is also the Frank R. Oastler Professor of Ecology at Yale School of the Environment. “And the stories we tell here reflect the teaching and research work being done by our faculty right now.”

The latest of Yale’s science spaces to undergo transformation, the Peabody is perhaps the one most visible to the public: with free admission to all, its opening days have seen a steady stream of visitors. And its updated spaces are a dazzling amalgam of old and new.

Yale’s extraordinary collections are still here for the world to see, from the claw-toed dinosaur Deinonychus to the world’s first cookbook, from ancient Mesopotamia. Meanwhile, there are new teaching classrooms, an imaging lab, and rotating gallery spaces to one day dive into topics such as neuroscience and quantum physics.

The museum also pays homage to the trailblazing tools of science in the Peabody’s second-floor History of Science and Technology display, including Yale’s first research-grade telescope. One day in the future, some of the cutting-edge technology currently used on campus might find its way there: one of the “refrigerators” used to chill superconducting quantum devices, perhaps, or an electron microscope that can see down to the single-atom level.

These objects are important because they extended our ability to perceive the world,” Skelly said. “But it’s only part of a much larger story we’re trying to tell that includes challenging things, like climate change and extinctions, alongside the incredible achievements of humans.”

As for what comes next in the realm of science discoveries, Gladney has one prediction: It won’t be boring.

For those people trying to imagine what the next version of physics and engineering will be, what the next version of chemistry will be — Yale is the place for that, because science will always be interesting here,” he said.

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