The Story of Science at Yale, Part III: Science at Yale on the Horizon

In his inaugural address in 1993, newly minted President Richard Levin pledged his support for the sciences at Yale and highlighted their importance to the university.

“Today, the scientific capability of American universities is the envy of the world. We neglect its support at our peril.”
–President Levin, October 1, 1993

Nearly two decades later, Levin boasts a long list of accomplishments in the sciences and across the university, most notably through updates in the scientific curriculum and investments in new facilities. He has increased research opportunities for students through the Perspectives on Science and Engineering Program for freshmen, and the Science, Technology and Research Scholars (STARS) Program for minorities and women, and made a push to improve both recruitment and retention of top science students. Levin has also worked to hire professors preeminent in their fields and firmly establish Yale’s place in the scientific community.

At the turn of the new millennium, Levin announced a $500 million investment in science and engineering facilities, and an additional $500 million investment in facilities at the medical school.

“Yale is committed to remain on everyone’s short list of the best universities in the world. In the 21st century, you must excel in science and engineering to maintain that position.”
–President Levin, January 19, 2000

Levin planned for five science buildings in his 20-year commitment to science and technology. Four of these original five buildings have been built (Class of 1954 Environmental Science Center, Malone Engineering Center, Class of 1954 Chemistry Research Building. and Kroon Hall) in addition to two others that were not part of his original plan (The Anlyan Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital). Last summer, Kline Biology Tower was renovated and equipped with the new Center for Science and Social Science Information as well as a new café, now a popular hangout for science students.

This past summer, lecture halls in Sloane Physics Laboratory were renovated and the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design (CEID) was opened on Prospect Street, making science and engineering more visible than ever with exhibitions of student work. Sterling Chemistry Laboratory, Gibbs Laboratory, and Osborne Memorial Laboratories have yet to be renovated.

In 2008, the proposed $500 million Undergraduate Science Center, a plan for the vertical expansion of Sterling Chemistry Laboratory to include a dining hall and a gym, was canceled due to the recession. The project was replaced by a $50 million renovation of Kline Chemistry Laboratory. The Undergraduate Science Teaching Center is still on Yale’s wish list.

Levin announced on August 30, 2012 that he would step down at the end of the academic year. In his email, he acknowledged that there remains an unfinished agenda.

“Before us lie decisions about when to proceed with such projects as constructing the Yale Biology Building, facilities for science teaching…”
–President Levin, August 30, 2012

The plans for the Yale Biology Building. Image courtesy of The Freelon Group

Construction on the $250 million Yale Biology Building, the fifth building, has been suspended. The “Giving to Yale” page is currently soliciting a $100 million donation for the project.

Other projects have also met similar struggles. Science Park at Yale, the old site of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, was supposed to become a hotspot for biotech companies and startups, but after years of stagnation and several changes in ownership over the last decade, has become an industrial complex featuring a garage, apartments, and offices.

In its most recent display of long-term commitment, however, Yale acquired 136 acres of land in 2007 for its West Campus, an area devoted exclusively to science. The new property, formerly owned by Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals, gives science at Yale the room it needs to grow. West Campus is, however, located 7 miles away from downtown New Haven, raising concerns about how the space can be integrated with the rest of campus and be made useful to undergraduates. West Campus includes more than half a million square feet of ready-made laboratory space and only cost $100 million. The Yale Biology Building, in comparison, will cost $250 million for just 286,000 square feet of laboratory space. Already, many interdisciplinary institutes including the Yale Center for Molecular Discovery, the Yale Center for Genomic Analysis, the High Performance Computing Center, and the West Campus Analytical Core, are located at West Campus. It is perhaps the best example of Yale’s emphasis on value for its money, and much it of its potential remains untapped.

West Campus represents a huge investment in scientific research at Yale, housing many interdisciplinary institutes including the Yale Center for Genomic Analysis. Image courtesy of Yale University.

Yale University is a world leader in science education, but there is always room for improvement. Thanks to the leadership and dedication of President Levin and others like him, science at Yale is well on its way to a brighter future.

“In the twenty-first century, no education will be complete without a significant infusion of science and quantitative reasoning. The curricular reforms now unfolding in Yale College were developed expressly to meet the need for a scientifically literate citizenry,” Levin recently noted.

In this spirit, a four-part series of 100-level biology courses was introduced this year to provide science underclassmen with a “deeper level of understanding,” in the words of Professor Michael Koelle. Koelle, who teaches BIOL 101: “Biochemistry and Biophysics,” believes that the courses will better prepare students for higher-level classes and hopes that they will pave the way for better upper-level electives. The supply of new offerings may have come just in time to meet demand. The introductory biology courses were extremely popular throughout shopping period, and more freshmen are also declaring their interest in science majors. Koelle also added, “We are definitely continuing to teach science courses for non-science majors! Generating new high-quality offerings in this area is a priority at Yale College.”

As we prepare for the transition in leadership, we can be confident that if the next president of Yale University is anything like President Levin, Yale will continue to improve its science programs, and will always rise to meet the challenges of the future for Yale and for the world.