The New “Science Hill”: Yale’s Westward Expansion toward Scientific Destiny

Instead of boarding the usual Blue Line that faithfully treks up to Science Hill’s research laboratories, future chemistry, biology, and physics majors at Yale may find themselves boarding trains heading toward Yale’s newest research complex: West Campus.

The 136-acre purchase, costing approximately $100 million, promises to expand Yale’s research opportunities by offering over 550,000 square feet of laboratory space as well as unprecedented access to state-of-the art research facilities.

The space is intended to catalyze the already prolific research conducted by members of Yale’s science faculty. Alternatively, building such facilities on Yale’s central campus would cost a minimum of $360 million and over a decade of construction time.

Shortly after acquiring West Campus last summer, President Richard Levin noted “The addition of this ready-made, state-of- the-art research space will allow that growth to accelerate at an unprecedented level potentially making it possible for Yale scientists to develop new discoveries, inventions and cures years earlier.”

Additionally, in a time of aggressive initiatives to expand the sciences, West Campus provides Yale with a considerable bargaining tool when attempting to attract distinguished researchers. The potential exists for Yale to bring leaders in any of the fields of science to West Campus to conduct research.

This influx of faculty ultimately translates to incredible research opportunities for undergraduates. For the first time in the University’s history, undergraduates will be able to elect from a seemingly infinite amount of foundation-laying research in any area of the basic sciences.

Strengthening Yale’s Sciences

For centuries, Yale’s world renowned status stemmed primarily from the reputation of its arts and humanities departments. Despite having produced numerous revolutionary scientific minds, such as Josiah Gibbs 1858 GRD 1863, Ernest Lawrence GRD 1925, and John Fenn GRD 1940, few would deny that Yale was simply not known as a rigorous scientific institution.

The trend was exacerbated during World War II when brilliant German scientists such as Albert Einstein and Otto Meyerhof snubbed Yale for Princeton and University of Pennsylvania respectively because of the overwhelming tenor of anti-Semitism in New Haven.

Yale’s failure to attract distinguished scientific minds in a crucial transitions time for research limited Yale’s reputation in the sciences for nearly 50 years.

During the 1990s, numerous universities across the country became increasingly aware of the importance of a strong science curriculum. A clear trend toward emphasizing the role of basic and applied science in a modern world was evident.

Universities began aggressively expanding their science faculty and facilities to attract science-minded students, and Yale was no exception. Shortly after taking office, Levin outlined an ambitious plan to bolster Yale’s reputation in the physical sciences and life sciences.

His plan called for the construction and renovation of science facilities on Science Hill, as well as at the Yale School of Medicine. Levin realized that if Yale was to remain attractive to bright students in the future, it needed to rigorously engage science and humanities students alike.

In 2000, Levin boldly announced an ambitious plan to invest $500 million in the development of the sciences at Yale. The unprecedented monetary commitment signaled Yale’s efforts to raise Yale’s science departments to the same status enjoyed by its humanities and social science departments.

The $500 million pledge was geared toward constructing several state-of-the-art research complexes at both Science Hill and the Yale Medical School. In addition, a significant portion of the money was designated for renovating many of the dilapidated research buildings.

The new buildings on campus include The Class of 1954 Chemistry Research Building, The Malone Center, and The Anlyan Center at the Medical School. These complexes provided extensive modern research laboratories, which allowed members of the faculty to conduct an unprecedented amount of innovative research, no longer constrained by limited laboratory space or insufficient in-house resources and instruments.

The Chemistry Research Building offers over 100,000 square feet of chemical laboratories for hood intensive research. In addition, the Malone Center is equipped with instruments and facilities to conduct revolutionary biomedical engineering work. The Anylan Center is home to numerous laboratories in immunobiology, genetics, and experimental pathology.

The creation of these new research complexes also provided numerous research opportunities for undergraduates, along with expanded programs such as Perspectives on Science, STARS, and Dean’s Research Fellowships.

Never before could Yale’s science undergraduates choose from so many ground breaking and innovative research opportunities. Thus, in a short amount of time, Yale quickly raised its reputation in the sciences.

Acquiring the Bayer Complex

In a matter of half a decade, Yale rose among the ranks of elite universities to boast amenities in the sciences that few other urban universities can offer. The resulting combination of excellence in both the sciences and the humanities shifted Yale’s image among members of academia.

The university began attracting distinguished leaders to instruct and research at the College as well as the School of Medicine. Recent examples include world-renowned chemical and cell biologist James Rothman from Columbia University to chair the Department of Cell Biology, and T. Kyle Vanderlick, recruited from Princeton University to be the first female Dean of the School of Engineering.

Shortly after President Levin’s initial $500 million pledge, he announced that the University was going to invest yet another $500 million to the sciences. He hoped that more research centers could be constructed, and more undergraduate teaching facilities could be built and remodeled.

In the summer of 2008, Yale’s already exponential growth in the sciences received an unexpected and unprecedented burst when President Levin announced the purchase of the Bayer Complex in the summer of 2008.

The new complex, located on 136 acres between Orange and West Haven, boasts over 550,000 square feet of laboratory space spread over several interconnected buildings – three of which were constructed within the past decade.

All of the laboratory space is fully operational and in fact many of the research benches and hoods have never been used. Among the buildings is a chemistry research center that was built only a few years ago.

The West Campus purchase expand Yale’s scientific infrastructure by more than fifty percent, including bench space and specialized scientific equipment.

Michael Donoghue, Vice – President of West Campus Planning and Program Development noted that “the superb science facilities at West Campus are going to lead to long term growth for the sciences at Yale.”

Indeed, Yale is already planning for long-term growth at West Campus. Among some of the projects in development is a genomic and chemical screening facility. This planned facility will allow researchers and undergraduates alike to conduct technologically advanced experiments at Yale instead of outsourcing them to various agencies.

This added level of convenience gives researchers opportunities to produce data at a significantly quicker pace. “West Campus has the specialized equipment to allow researcher great opportunities to do special projects,” remarked Donoghue.

In addition to plans for creating specialized facilities, Yale also plans to utilize the West Campus space to establish four interdisciplinary institutes, all aimed at fostering collaboration among the members of Yale’s science faculty.

“Ideally, the institutes at West Campus would allow for a lot more multidisciplinary work. The equipment is already in place to make these institutes possible” stated Donoghue.

One example of how an interdisciplinary group might work is the recently named Sackler Institute for Biological, Physical, and Engineering Sciences. Dr. Lynn Regan, a professor in both Chemistry and Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry, has been appointed the first director, overseeing everything from recruiting visiting scholars to a new PhD program in Physical and Engineering Biology.

While the exact names and subject matter of the West Campus institutes have yet to be determined, Donoghue noted that Yale wants to forcefully expand in the areas of chemical biology, microbial diversity, cell biology, cancer biology, and systems biology.

These various institutes would allow Yale scientists to engage in large scale collaborative projects. Leaders in pathology, chemistry, biology, and physics could easily launch a complicated and novel project in a centralized location.

The net effect of this collaboration could be years’ worth of advancement in mere months. Undergraduates conducting research at any of the West Campus institutes could potentially learn a variety of sophisticated techniques from an array of disciplines.

Under the current research set-up at Yale such multidisciplinary work does not explicitly exist. While many researchers collaborate on projects, many investigators conduct experiments in parts and only meet to interpret the data together. Seldom does an entire multidisciplinary project occur in one research space.

Seven Miles from Central Campus

While West Campus offers numerous amenities that certainly bolster Yale’s reputation in the sciences, the location of the complex raises concerns about how often they may be used by members of the undergraduate community.

Donoghue admits that, “integration is going take time to develop,” but realistically, “it is going to occur in waves.” He plans to create an efficient transportation system that could transport students to West Campus.

Yale faculty are currently investigating two transportation plans. The first, an obvious choice, is a regularly schedule shuttle to and from West Campus. The shuttle would travel on Interstate-95, and “the ride should only take fifteen minutes from central campus at any point during the day.”

However, an elaborate second plan is receiving serious consideration. Yale is proposing the construction of a train station at West Campus which would allow students and faculty to travel quickly from Union Station in New Haven to West Campus. “We are anticipating on developing a good mechanism,” declared Donoghue.

For now, the only way to get to West Campus without a car is to call for a shuttle, preferably 24 hours in advance. Running between 8:00 AM and 4:00 PM, the 24-seat van can also drop passengers off at Union Station upon request.

It seems that regardless of what transportation method the University elects, they want to make West Campus as accessible as Bass Library is to students and faculty.

The former Bayer complex also includes several acres of designated green space where many native Connecticut animal and plant species can flourish.

In Three to Five Years

Unfortunately, Yale’s plans to fully develop West Campus may take a few years. Currently, minor renovations will begin, and in a few years major construction may be undertaken to expand West Campus.

With nearly 136 acres of land, Yale has a considerable amount of room to construct buildings that can accommodate an even wider variety of research activity.

Even after West Campus develops, Donoghue confirmed that there has been no discussion about moving undergraduate course out to West Campus. However, new specialized courses may be offered which can take advantage of some of West Campus’s extensive facilities.

“Ideally, undergraduates can be quickly integrated into advanced research. West Campus drastically expands the range of opportunities available, and it allows for the potential of specialized science instruction.”

Indeed, the range of opportunities will be plentiful at West Campus. The 550,000 square feet of laboratory space is not expected to accommodate a lot of current faculty.

“Yale is in the midst of an extensive hiring process. We are not aiming at relocating professors, but rather we are expecting to add new professors,” remarked Donoghue.

In a matter of a few years, Levin has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the Yale sciences. West Campus marks the beginning of a new trend towards establishing a solid science reputation at a school historically oriented to arts and humanities.

As Yale’s investments in the sciences grow, so will its facilities. Perhaps in a few short years, West Campus will be as integrated as Science Hill. Until then, the possibilities are truly endless.

About the Author
Phong Lee is a current sophomore in Branford College. He is a molecular biophysics and biochemistry major with a research interest in Toll-like Receptors and Mitochondrial Signaling Pathways.

The author wishes to thank Michael Donoghue, Vice-President for West Campus Planning and Program Development; G. Evelyn Hutchinson Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology for his assistance in explaining the major developmental projects occurring at Yale’s West Campus.

Further Reading

  • Official West Campus website: