Building to Connect the Sciences

March 31, 2004

Duke's board of trustees has approved the design of a new $115-million science facility to be named in honor of Duke trustee Melinda French Gates '86, M.B.A. '87 and her family. The French Sciences Buildings will bring together several disciplines under one roof to address major scientific challenges.

The project, which requires additional trustee approvals before construction can begin, is scheduled for completion in 2006. It will provide additional space for and connect Duke's departments of biological anthropology and anatomy, chemistry, mathematics, and physics. In addition to 285,000 square feet of new teaching and research space, the project calls for building six research greenhouses to replace outdated facilities and for renovating teaching and research space in the sub-basement of the Biological Sciences Building.

"Cutting-edge research in science and technology in the twenty-first century requires interdisciplinary collaboration," says Gates. "[My family and I] are excited by the promise the French Sciences Building holds for enhancing research across disciplines for both students and faculty."

In May 2002, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced it would give Duke $30 million to support the new science facility. Melinda Gates, a Duke trustee, was an executive at Microsoft, which was founded by her husband, the chairman of the company.

"The new building," says Duke President Nannerl O. Keohane, "will enable Duke to expand our interdisciplinary teaching and research capability in the sciences by bringing together several disciplines to address major scientific challenges." Equally important, Keohane says, is that it multiplies opportunities for undergraduates "to experience the excitement of science and research and is consistent with Melinda's commitment to Duke to provide the best possible experience for our students."

Duke Provost Peter Lange, the university's senior academic officer, says the building will "promote the kinds of interaction across fields that are central to our strategic plan, 'Building on Excellence,' physically and intellectually linking faculty, students, and programs in the math/physics building and the Biological Sciences Building."

The building will be located behind the existing biological sciences and physics buildings, off Science Drive. "Its proximity to these facilities and the nearby Levine Science Research Center," says Lange, "should encourage collaborative teaching and research programs and greater interaction between and among faculty and students."