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Mark Ratner, Chair of Chemistry, Northwestern University

Northwestern seal


August 17,  2012

Daniel I. Linzer, Provost
Northwestern University
Evanston, IL 60208

Hi Dan,

I understand that some individuals have questioned the importance of direct connectivity and shared services in the design and construction of Northwestern University’s research facilities. I feel compelled to weigh in on this issue in regard to the new research building planned on the old Prentice hospital site. The medical school has strongly improved its research profile, and I am pleased to hear that even more is going to happen.

I have now been at Northwestern for 38 years, and one of the great advantages of the Evanston campus for chemical research is that the buildings are brought together in the best possible way. It is particularly important for effective research and discovery when buildings are connected floor by floor. Even during a January snowstorm, it facilitates direct collaboration and offers some other advantages, such as moving heavy equipment and samples without having to go outside. These advantages are critical promoters of interdisciplinary contact. When you see your colleagues, it generates brainstorming and cross-pollination of ideas. This connectivity makes a large place seem smaller and more intimate.

It is also one of the strengths of the new buildings on the Evanston campus that this not only happens on one floor, but on several. As modern research buildings get taller, having more links is even more advantageous and necessary. 

My own group now has about 23 people in it -- these come from a couple of departments and a couple of schools (McCormick as well as Weinberg), they are often shared with experimentalists or other theorists, and nearly all of them are here because we won competitions with other excellent research institutions. The physical facilities at Northwestern play a large part in the recruitment of graduate students, and so the better our buildings, the better our work. Fortunately, a lot of these students are joint, because my current external funding level (around $600,000 a year) is certainly not enough to pay them all -- sharing a responsibility for supervision of students and postdocs is one of the great strengths of this department, and one that I hope we can extend to different parts of the university.


Mark A. Ratner
Chair of Chemistry
Lawrence B. Dumas University Professor