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Cornell University to use $10M donation to establish molecular engineering labs

By Eric Reinhardt


An artist’s rendering of the Samuel C. Fleming Molecular Engineering Laboratories in Olin Hall. Cornell University will use a $10 million donation from Samuel Fleming and wife, Nancy Fleming, to pay for the project. (Image credit: Cornell University website)

ITHACA, N.Y. — Cornell University is using a $10 million donation to build molecular-engineering laboratories inside Olin Hall.

Samuel (Sam) Fleming, a 1962 graduate of Cornell University, and wife, Nancy Fleming, made the donation, the school said in a Thursday news release.

Sam Fleming, who served as a Cornell trustee emeritus until his death May 2 at age 78, had been a “champion” of Cornell’s growth in biomolecular engineering, the university said. In 2015, he and his family supported Cornell through an endowment of graduate fellowships in that field.

The Samuel C. Fleming Molecular Engineering Laboratories will include 7,300 square feet of new laboratory space on the second and third floors of Olin Hall’s north wing.

Researchers will use the space for research on drug design, drug delivery, biomedical diagnostics, and the discovery of new materials.

The Fleming Laboratories are part of a larger renovation project targeting Olin Hall’s interior, giving it new space for research, teaching and student interactions. The computation labs and faculty offices currently occupying the upper floors of the north wing have moved to the first floor. Construction on the second and third floors is underway, with the new laboratories expected to be completed in late September.

Using new space

Three faculty members within the Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, along with their research programs, will share the space and equipment.

They include Nick Abbott, described as an “innovator” in colloid and interface science; Chris Alabi, assistant professor described as an “expert” in synthetic and biophysical chemistry; and Rong Yang, assistant professor who specializes in material design for biomedical applications.

“These faculty members represent a powerful cluster who truly engineer systems from the molecular scale,” Abe Stroock, William C. Hooey Director of the Smith School, said in the release. “This laboratory space will allow them to continue to develop new chemical-design principles, synthesize their own molecules, and pursue a rich array of applications in biomedical and environmental contexts.”

For example, Abbott recently demonstrated liquid crystal droplets that can hold a variety of “micro-cargo,” including medicines, and escort them through a biological environment until the crystals come in contact with a predetermined target. The new lab space will allow Abbott, who developed the crystals at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to advance his work at Cornell.

The Fleming Laboratories — Olin Hall’s first “major” addition of lab space in 30 years — are an “important upgrade as the school continues to grow,” Cornell contends. Its faculty has increased 50 percent since 2000, including the addition of Abbott in 2018 and Yang, who will join in July.

Stroock contended that the donation and laboratory space will make the school an “international focal point for discoveries that will define molecular engineering in the decades to come.”

“Not only will the lab space recognize the enduring legacy of one of our most successful alumni in Sam Fleming, but it will enable us to attract and retain top scholars in the field,” he said.

The Smith School was one of the first chemical-engineering programs in the country to include “biomolecular” in its name, adding the word in 2002 to acknowledge the increasingly important role of researching biomolecules like proteins and DNA.

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