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Joy Resmovits for Spectator

The Northwest Corner Building on 120th and Broadway will be completed in the fall of 2010, with new lab facilities.

Science at Columbia is about to become more interdisciplinary—and the Northwest Corner Building will have themed floors to show it. The gleaming steel tower on the corner of 120th Street and Broadway heralds the changes underway in the sciences at Columbia. The building is meant to bring sometimes disparate offices together and increase collaboration among science departments. Eight current Columbia scientists have been selected to occupy the seventh, eighth, ninth, and 12th floors. The seventh floor will be themed "Single Molecule and Nanotechnology" and will include professors Kenneth Shepard from the electrical engineering department, James Hone from mechanical engineering, and Philip Kim from physics. The "Single Molecule Physics and Chemistry" eighth floor will house professors Julio Fernandez from the biology department and Latha Venkataraman from the department of applied physics and mathematics. Rafael Yuste, a professor of biology and neuroscience, will occupy the ninth floor, with the theme "Biophysics and Imaging," and the "Biochemistry and Synthetic Chemistry" 12th floor will include the laboratories of chemistry professor Virginia Cornish and chemistry and biology professor Brent Stockwell. "You go all the way from the physics of very small things, nanotechnology, to single molecules, to imaging and looking at nerve cells, to how molecules behave inside living cells. It's biology. It's chemistry. It's physics. It's engineering. All mixed," David Hirsh, Columbia's executive vice president for research, said. "People can now flow freely and can enjoy each other's science." The building will connect Chandler, Pupin, Schapiro, Mudd, and Fairchild Halls. It will also act as a gateway to the planned Manhattanville campus, Hirsh said. According to Dan Held, director of communications for Columbia Facilities, the Northwest Corner Building is on track to be completed in the fall of 2010. "We are in the process of completing the façade installation and have started the fit out of the interior of the building," he said in e-mail. Twenty-one faculty members will move their laboratories into the seventh through 13th floors of the new building, with three labs on each floor. Eight will be existing faculty, and 13 will be new hires. "When you want to hire the best people, one of the components that helps a lot is to show them a terrific lab that is shiny and new and neighbors who are vigorous and exciting on each side," Hirsh said. Shepard said the new space will be significantly larger than his current space, which is cramped and crowded. According to Shepard, the collaboration that will result from the new building and its design is more important than the additional space. He said it should "help to create a lot of synergy between the physical sciences and life sciences" at Columbia, even though the relationship is already strong. Provost Claude Steele said, "Now the challenge is to pay for it, to outfit it, and to people it in a way that supports the mission of not only Columbia University as a whole, but also the Arts and Sciences School [GSAS] and Engineering [SEAS]. We are working to maximize our University-wide science agenda." But the future is not bright for all scientists at Columbia. Some occupants of the neighboring Pupin Physics Laboratory said the construction has caused them serious problems. Because the Northwest Corner Building is six floors higher than Pupin, one-ninth of the night sky is blocked from the telescopes in the Rutherford Observatory on the top of Pupin, which are used for both teaching and research at the University, members of the astronomy department have said. Some who use the telescope have also said that the light from the new building will also prevent clear observation. "It's a shame," Hirsh said in response to this concern. "This is something that has been a problem all along, and we just have to face this problem." Cameron Hummels, an astronomy Ph.D. candidate and the department's public outreach director, agreed that a solution needs to be found, although none seem to be in sight. "No one has any real solution for what we'll do for the long term," he said. Commenting on the appearance of the new building, Hirsh said, "It does not look like the classical building but we live in a new era."

Northwest Corner Building astronomy Arts and Sciences