University Of Chicago Opens School Of Molecular Engineering With $75M Gift | WBEZ
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UChicago Opens School Of Molecular Engineering With $75M Gift

The subject matter is small, but the announcement big.

The University of Chicago will become the first university in the country to create a school for molecular engineering.

The Pritzker Foundation is donating $75 million to the university, on top of an initial $25 million gift to start the university’s Institute for Molecular Engineering in 2011, which is a partnership with Argonne National Laboratory. The new school will be called the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering.

“Molecular engineering has been critical to expanding the university’s capacity to contribute to science, engineering, and technology development, and to do so in a highly distinctive way,” University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer said in a press release. “The Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering will have a major impact on the city of Chicago, its capabilities in technology development, and the university’s outreach initiatives across the city.”

Molecular engineering is an emerging field that studies and engineers molecules to see how they behave in materials from carbon fibers in airplane wings to processing chips in smartphones. Understanding materials at the molecular level can lead to major technological advancements in areas like health care, energy and the environment.

Setting it apart from other programs in molecular engineering, UChicago’s school will be organized around different research themes to solve global societal challenges rather than around engineering specialties.

In recent years, the university has already made major advancements in these fields, including a polymer to fight antibiotic-resistant infections and creating the basis for solar cells that are cheaper, with the goal of creating more sustainable energy. Researchers also have made advancements in the area of quantum physics by assembling the basics for an unhackable quantum teleportation network.

“Our mission is to develop solutions to problems that have a profound effect on humanity and quality of life,” said Matthew Tirrell, founding director and dean of Pritzker Molecular Engineering. “This gift provides critical support to address the spectrum of areas where we can make a difference.”

The school will also continue to house the Chicago Quantum Exchange, which is one of the largest collaborative teams in the world studying quantum physics. Quantum physics studies particles that are so small that the general physics of how everyday things move don’t apply.

The gift from the Pritzker Foundation will not only allow the school to add more faculty on top of the 30 current faculty members, but also support research and help train the next generation of scientists in the Chicago area.

The donation will fund a new partnership with the City Colleges of Chicago to support students interested in pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and math.

It will connect City Colleges students to the faculty and labs at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering and also provide college readiness and admissions counseling to help students transfer to four-year STEM degree programs.

The program will be piloted at Kennedy-King College and Truman College.

“We believe there’s great talent in the City Colleges, and for many of the students, they should be thinking about the next step for themselves,” Tirrell said. “We want to be partners and a resource for them to visualize a strong future for themselves moving into more advanced education beyond the City Colleges.”

Kate McGee covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @McGeeReports.

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