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Harvard Approves New North Yard Science Building

In a move that fortifies Harvard’s science facilities—and their foothold in the North Yard—the Corporation last Monday approved a long-awaited $100 million facility for interdisciplinary work in physical sciences and engineering.

The new Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) building, called LISE—the Laboratory for Interface Science and Engineering—will connect pre-existing physics labs with engineering facilities, and will span the gap between McKay and Cruft just north of the Science Center.

LISE will help relieve a major space crunch in FAS science facilities, and will address what many say is a pressing need for more state-of-the-art laboratories to keep the University at the forefront of research science.

The lab will also help accomodate the growth of the burgeoning Division of Engineering and Applied Science (DEAS), which has grown quickly in recent years—and, some hope, will eventually grow into a full-fledged engineering school with a faculty nearly double its current size.

The Corporation’s approval of LISE may also speak to broader University plans: high-powered University committees are curently considering relocating either FAS science or a cluster of graduate schools to the University’s recently-acquired land across the river in Allston.

Although the decision is expected within the next few months, top administrators have not revealed their preferences.

But the Corporation’s decision to commit such a large sum of money to science construction in Cambridge has led some professors to speculate that higher powers might intend to keep sciences on this side of the river.

“The building is a good signal that we’re going to stay in Cambridge,” said McKay Professor of Applied Physics Efthimios Kaxiras. “After all, it wouldn’t make sense that they build this costly structure just to have us move now.”

Science administrators and professors say LISE has been in the works for more than a decade, and said this week they are ecstatic that the building is going ahead despite the fact that no donor has been found to pay for the expensive lab.

The lab might garner as much as $10 million in federal grants from agencies such as the National Science Foundation, according to DEAS Dean Venkatesh “Venky” Narayanamurti, but FAS will probably bear the brunt of the building’s cost.

The $100 million commitment comes just a few months after Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby warned the school that FAS could face major shortfalls if belts aren’t tightened.

Earlier this winter, he instituted a “soft” hiring freeze at FAS as a way to conserve funds.

“To assure the financial strength on which academic excellence depends, we must and we will be careful,” Kirby wrote in his annual letter to the Faculty this winter. “Our long-term aspirations will require difficult choices in the near term.”

Science professors said the new building is critical to keeping Harvard on the cutting edge of research.

“We desperately needed new cooperative facilities for material science,” Narayanamurti said.

“Harvard had a great tradition in experimental science but the facilities have decayed,” Narayanamurti added. “To carry on experimental research today...you really need state-of-the-art facilities.”

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