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Engineering Facility Named in Honor of Donors

Engineering life sciences facility to be named in honor of Ronald and JoAnne Willens

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July 19, 2011 | by Alan K. Cubbage

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Ronald and JoAnne Willens have made a significant gift to Northwestern University, enabling it to advance its leadership position in the field of nanotechnology, President Morton Schapiro announced today.

In recognition of the unrestricted gift, the top three floors of an addition to the northern side of the Technological Institute will be named the Willens Engineering Life Sciences Wing. The addition is expected to be completed in fall 2012.

“Northwestern is an established leader in nanotechnology, engineering and life sciences,” Schapiro said. “We are grateful for the Willens’ support. The new wing that will bear their name will enable faculty to explore opportunities at the interface of these disciplines and further advance Northwestern’s reputation for excellence in interdisciplinary collaboration.”

The facility will house chemists and engineers whose work emphasizes the life sciences and their relation to engineering. The faculty research will advance biomedicine in areas such as neural engineering, bionanotechnology and biomaterials.

New Northwestern faculty member and nanotechnology expert Milan Mrksich, who arrives this fall from the University of Chicago, will have a new state-of-the-art laboratory in the Willens wing. He uses nanotechnology to study biological systems, with an emphasis on the design and synthesis of biologically active materials and their application to problems in the biological and medical sciences.

Ron Willens is co-founder of the technology company Livingston Enterprises, which Lucent Technologies bought in 1997. The company made remote access equipment and software that allowed hundreds of users to dial into large corporate networks or Internet service providers.

JoAnne Willens is a retired technical illustrator.

Two of their sons and one granddaughter have graduated from Northwestern; another granddaughter will arrive in the fall as a freshman.

“Ron and JoAnne are incredibly interesting people who have a passion for Northwestern, for learning and for the development of science, especially nanotechnology,” said Chad Mirkin, director of Northwestern’s International Institute for Nanotechnology. “Their gift is an incredibly generous gift and will be put to very good use at Northwestern.”

Mirkin is the George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry in the Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. He also is a member of three departments in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and one department in the Feinberg School of Medicine.

“Milan Mrksich’s hire, following the hire of chemistry professor Fraser Stoddart, demonstrates Northwestern’s ability to bring the best and brightest in the field of nanotechnology to the center of the universe in nanotechnology, here at Northwestern,” Mirkin said. “He will have a good home in the Willens wing.”

Mrksich, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, will have appointments in Weinberg, McCormick and Feinberg.

The amount of the Willens’ gift was not disclosed.