O’Malley, Hoyer, Gallagher and Mote Celebrate Groundbreaking for Physical Sciences Complex

Top federal, state and university officials came together on May 24, 2010 to break ground for the University of Maryland’s new Physical Sciences Complex (PSC), a highly innovative 158,068-square-foot, state-of-the-art educational and research center with facilities that will be unsurpassed anywhere in the world.

Governor Martin O’Malley called the $128-million project “the number-one capital priority of the O’Malley-Brown administration,” emphasizing that “job-creating progress, especially in these tough times, is all about our ability to be leaders in innovation.”

The State’s $115.7 million contribution to the PSC, O’Malley said, reflects the belief that “the discoveries, technologies and innovations that are being advanced every day in laboratories, universities and companies throughout our state hold the promise and potential to remake our economy – and in the broader sense, our world – by unlocking the solution to how we can better feed, fuel, protect and heal our planet.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer acknowledged that the “investment is dear to the taxpayer,” but emphasized that “the return is extraordinary. There is probably no investment that any of us could make – period – than would be better than the investment that taxpayers have made in this facility.”

The timing is auspicious, said UMD President C. D. Mote, Jr., because “we are entering a new era of physical sciences research” and “this is going to be the best physical science research complex in the country, if not in the world.” The PSC, Mote said, “will really enable the best of the best to do their work here.”

Scheduled to begin construction in June, with completion of Phase 1 in 2013, the PSC will house UMD’s Physics and Astronomy Departments, as well as the interdisciplinary Institute for Physical Sciences and Technology and the Joint Quantum Institute, a research partnership of UMD and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

President Mote noted the long history of cooperative activities between UMD and NIST, calling it a “stellar partnership” that would continue to result in “highly impacting, job-creating, game-changing activities.”

NIST Director Patrick D. Gallagher noted that his agency provided $10.3 million in funding, via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, for advanced laboratory space for JQI and other users. “It was a catalyst grant, with significant leadership and involvement by the State. We hope this grant made the difference in going through with this investment now.” The JQI proposal, he said, was examined along with 170 competing requests from across the nation, and “we ran as pure a competition as we could.” To receive the award, he said, “you really had to have earned it. So my congratulations to everyone who worked on the proposal. It was the best of the best, and that’s why we’re here today.”

The PSC, five stories tall at its highest point and extending two floors underground, will enable UMD to conduct some of the most advanced research possible at any location worldwide. It was conceived and designed to encourage novel and potentially transformative cross-cutting collaborations – not only among researchers in the Physics and Astronomy Departments, IPST and JQI, but also including members of new cooperative organizations such as the Joint Space-Science Institute (combining scientists and resources from Astronomy, Physics and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center) along with a growing collaboration between IPST and the National Institutes of Health and the Biophysics group in the UMD Physics Department.

Steve Halperin, Dean of UMD’s College of Computer, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, said that the PSC “will be the most advanced building of its kind on an American university campus. The research that will be enabled in this facility will vault the University upwards in national and international stature in the physical sciences from its already eminent status among the top 15 universities in the country. The unique design of a building that is both very attractive and highly functional will stimulate cross-disciplinary collaboration and make it much easier to attract new faculty of the highest caliber.

“I am deeply grateful to Governor O'Malley and the Maryland General Assembly for supporting the State funding for this exciting facility,, and to the National Institute for Standards and Technology, whose support has ensured the construction of the Laboratory for Advanced Quantum Science (LAQS), thereby ensuring that our Joint Quantum Institute is able to grow and flourish. "

NIST’s $10.3 million award – combined with an additional $5.2 million from the State of Maryland – will allow construction of the LAQS beneath the PSC building.

LAQS will provide JQI scientists and their collaborators with facilities as advanced as any in the world, by adding 22,000 square feet of underground laboratory space that is specifically designed for the needs of research at the frontiers of quantum science. LAQS will feature world-class control of vibration and electromagnetic interference, and precision environmental infrastructure for air filtration, ultra-stable temperature and humidity. LAQS will equal or exceed the exacting specifications of the Advanced Measurement Laboratories at NIST, widely regarded as the most sophisticated facilities of their kind.

"These world-class labs will keep JQI at the forefront of quantum science," said JQI Co-Director Steven Rolston. "We are delighted by the opportunity this award makes possible, and we intend to produce results that will fully justify the confidence that NIST has shown in our research goals and capabilities."

The PSC embodies an extraordinary merger of efficient function and graceful, inspiring architectural design. With its distinctive elliptical central opening, reaching from the ground-level atrium to the sky and providing daylight to three floors, it will be one of the most distinctive structures at the University and in the mid-Atlantic region.

"This building sets the tone for the future. The whole structure is designed to create opportunities for interaction and collaboration," said Stuart Vogel, Chair of the Department of Astronomy.

Drew Baden, Chair of the Department of Physics, said "Ninety-five percent of the universe is mysterious, and we are only now beginning to understand aspects of quantum science that have been the subject of debate for 80 years.   This building is designed to foster new collaborations, create new knowledge, and maximize the impact of the university in the physical sciences." 

Robert Dorfman, senior member of IPST and former CMPS dean, commented, "There is a certain element of human chemistry in research efforts; interaction is important in stimulating new ideas and directions. The new building will facilitate cross-disciplinary interaction and make it possible for scientists to talk with each other naturally."

The space around the ellipse on the upper floors is much wider than a normal corridor, and is designed to encourage and stimulate scientific conversation. "We've made the hallways serve as extensions of the rooms, where people can meet and congregate. The light and transparency contributes to a sense of interaction," said project designer Simon Trumble of CUH2A, a global architecture, engineering and planning firm.

The ultimate source of the Federal funding for the PSC, Rep. Hoyer noted, is the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which contained “the biggest investment in basic research of any bill I have voted on in 30 years in the House of Representatives. “ The PSC, he said, “is an example of that money at work.” In addition to short-term returns in construction and other jobs, Hoyer said, there will be long-term effects, “the benefits of which are unknown to anyone in this town or indeed in the world at this point in time. We cannot contemplate. But we know inevitably it will happen. The return on this investment will be geometric.”

Pushy Electrons Move Atoms

Nanotechweb.org has written an article on a recently released MRSEC-supported paper. Ellen Williams and colleagues at UMD have gained important insights into how electrons travel through nanoscale metal wires. Read More


Nathan Orloff Wins Awards for Research & Teaching

Graduate student Nathan Orloff, advised by professor Ichiro Takeuchi and James Booth, NIST, was named the runner-up in the competition for the Block Award for Best Experimental Poster Presentation at the International Workshop on Fundamental Physics of Ferroelectrics and Related Materials, held at the Aspen Center for Physics. He was recognized for his paper and presentation, titled "Strained-induced Ferroelectricity in Ruddlesden-Popper Srn+1TinO3n+1."

Orloff also recently received the 2009-2010 Michael J. Pelczar Award for Excellence in Graduate Study.