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Thomas O'Halloran, Morrison Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Chemistry of Life Processes Institute

Thomas O'Halloran

August 22, 2012

Daniel Linzer
Provost, Northwestern University
633 Clark St
Evanston, IL 60208

Dear Provost Linzer,

It is with great enthusiasm that I write regarding the planned construction of a new research building on the site of the former Prentice Hospital on the Chicago campus of Northwestern University.  In my multiple roles as the director of the Chemistry of Life Processes Institute (CLP), the associate director of the Basic Sciences Research Division of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, and director of my own interdisciplinary research efforts, I have great interest in this new research facility and its potential to foster state-of-the-art, interdisciplinary biomedical research.  As a team leader in developing the Program for the most recent interdisciplinary scientific research building built at the University (the Richard and Barbara Silverman Hall for Molecular Therapeutics and Diagnostics) I must emphasize that design elements are critical considerations if biomedical research space is expected to stimulate new types of breakthroughs in the scientific, medical and teaching arenas.  As I outline in detail below based on three years of occupancy of Silverman Hall, the most critical issues are shared resources spaces, horizontal proximity and connectivity. As with other academic studies, we too find that there are far more interactions between researchers working on the same floor than with floors above or below.   Thus the connectivity of Silverman Hall with Ryan, Pancoe, Hogan and the Tech Institute were optimized at the earliest stage in the site design and subsequent building layout stages.

CLP, which is housed within Silverman Hall, has created a robust ecosystem for collaborative research at the interface of the chemical, physical, engineering, and life sciences. The institute reduces barriers that typically impede major scientific discoveries by uniting scholars from disparate disciplines to investigate emerging research questions that require the formulation of new paradigms and the application of novel methods.  This ecosystem is built upon a custom-designed physical environment for transdisciplinary research in the Richard and Barbara Silverman Hall for Molecular Therapeutics and Diagnostics, which functions as a nexus for interaction and collaboration between the physical, engineering and life science researchers. As you are aware, CLP faculty and F&M personnel designed Silverman Hall around the ideas that open laboratories, architectural features, shared resource spaces, open and naturally lit stairwells and glass walls in the corridors can facilitate new levels of interdisciplinary scientific discovery.  Our process was guided by the fundamental recognition that established institutional boundaries must be transcended to produce transformative scientific advances.  Interdisciplinary approaches to science can generate these advances in ways that traditional, single-discipline methodology cannot.   Seven state-of-the-art core research facilities are based in Silverman Hall, where there is also space for future instrumentation development. Fifteen percent of the space available was committed to these shared resources. These facilities provide broad and deep support to the researchers in the areas of small molecule discovery, screening, visualization, analysis, synthesis, computation, and modeling. The boundary-transcending nature of the physical environment is echoed in the administrative infrastructure of the Institute which, by uniting the centers and cores under a single administrative umbrella, is able to provide comprehensive financial and management services and promote cooperation, collaboration, and synergy among the shared resource facilities.

This past year alone, CLP faculty members contributed 29 joint member publications (attached), which speak to the collaborative interdisciplinary activity level achieved by the institute.  This rich collaboratory environment is supported by nearly $9 million in external funding employing 84 faculty, staff and students.    I envision the new Chicago campus research building providing a similar environment for fostering interdisciplinary interactions across the various departments within Feinberg School of Medicine, the Lurie Cancer Center and the University as a whole.

In addition to the overall benefit to the greater Northwestern University community this new facility would provide, I am excited about the benefit to the research projects for which I am the principal investigator.  I am currently the Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor in the department of chemistry and a professor in the department of molecular biosciences.  My research group consists of three research faculty members (Mazar, Henkin, Bleher), a fellow in the department of radiation oncology (Donnelly), four postdoctoral fellows, a technician and seven graduate students (from three departments: chemistry, molecular biosciences and chemical and biological engineering).   The research team is currently supported with $3.6M (annual direct costs) in external funds from the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute, National Institute of General Medical Sciences and National Institute of Child Health and Development), and the W. M. Keck Foundation.

The horizontal connectivity enabled by the CLP infrastructure was instrumental in the award of the NCI-funded $12.5 million Northwestern University Physical Sciences-Oncology Center which brings together 58 faculty and students from the fields of chemistry, engineering, physics, the life sciences and clinical sciences to address fundamental problems in cancer research.  This type of research emphasizes discovery, innovation, multi-disciplinary collaboration and education; it seeks to generate bodies of knowledge and to train the next generation of researchers working at the intersection of the physical sciences and cancer biology.  As the principal investigator for this research initiative, I can attest to the importance of having cutting-edge facilities and an environment that fosters collaborations amongst its researchers.  A new research building on the Chicago campus would aid in fostering this type of horizontal connectivity and catalyze the entrepreneurial transdisciplinary biomedical research operations.

The creation of new physical infrastructure on the Chicago campus that is designed to promote and support transdisciplinary research and collaboration will be the catalyst for scientific discoveries and the vehicle for translating those discoveries into enhanced medical treatments.  I enthusiastically support this building endeavor.


Thomas V. O'Halloran
Morrison Professor of Chemistry
Director, Chemistry of Life Processes Institute