Tulane dedicates new research facility

Close to 200 people packed into a second-floor room in the Donna and Paul Flower Hall for Research and Innovation for the building’s dedication ceremony Tuesday afternoon at Tulane University.

The new four-story $7.4 million building was described by Nick Altiero, dean of the School of Science and Engineering, as a catalyst for Tulane’s emergence as a science and engineering powerhouse, as well as for attracting scholars, expanding research and cultivating innovation.

The first floor of the 24,000-square-foot building houses the new incarnation of Taylor Laboratory, the former building on the site replaced by Flower Hall. The fourth floor has several laboratories ready for faculty and students to move into immediately, while the second and third floors have not yet been completed.

While Taylor Laboratory, built in 1949, was determined unsuitable to meet the needs of contemporary research, Altiero said that legacy continues within the new building.

Paul Flower, who earned his master’s degree in civil engineering from Tulane in 1975, is the president of Woodward Design+Build, the company that was contracted to construct the hall. Altiero described the Flowers as tireless supporters and generous benefactors of the school and city over two decades.

Flower said he believes the building represents not only growth for Tulane, but research and economic growth for the city and entire region, providing enhanced opportunities for future generations of students and as a vehicle for attracting the best and brightest to New Orleans.

“It’s a beautiful building that will house people that are going to make a tremendous contribution,” Flower said.

Altiero told the gathering he was impressed with the “lightening fast” construction of the hall, and that the ground-breaking ceremony held in the fall of 2011 seemed like “just yesterday.”

Detailing the growth of the School of Science and Engineering since Hurricane Katrina, Altiero said that the size of the faculty increased from 104 members to 170, and the undergraduate student population increased from about 1,250 to 1,750. In that time, Altiero said the school has also seen a dramatic increase in the millions of dollars received in research grants, as well as patents and development of start-up businesses.

As the crowd dispersed from the ribbon-cutting ceremony to explore the building, visitors on the fourth floor enjoyed a sweeping view of the campus and the Uptown neighborhood through the wall of windows. The view on the top floor was only slightly impeded by a large live oak, for which the building, which is tucked back from the neighboring structures, was designed to accommodate.

Nicole Graas, development officer for the school, said that the second and third floors will be in part devoted to “support students wanting to be entrepreneurial in a very high-tech way.”

Primarily acting as a research lab, Altiero said the extra space was badly needed by the school. In all, the building will house 15 research labs for faculty, undergraduate and graduate students.

The school, which merges scientists and engineers, fosters the interaction between the two disciplines, Altiero said. The fourth floor will house chemists alongside chemical engineers. The scientists’ discoveries can inspire engineering applications, and the engineers can drive scientific discoveries, he said, thus diminishing the boundaries between the two.

“The objective is to reduce the time it takes for a scientific discovery to become an engineering innovation,” Altiero said.