'Huge leap forward' for Notre Dame

by Dave Newbart

ABSOLUTELY AMAZING’ | University tops off science push with $70 million, high-tech building and new equipment

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The University of Notre Dame has long been known for its Fighting Irish football team and emphasis on faith.

But now the school is hoping to be seen as a science powerhouse as well.

In the last decade, the school has more than doubled its spending on scientific research, seen a 20 percent jump in students majoring in science, and increased the number of undergraduates working on original research threefold.

But its biggest move was the opening of the Jordan Hall of Science, a sparkling new building that houses 40 labs for all major science disciplines. The building was completed after a major donation from John Jordan II, a 1969 grad who owns a Chicago investment firm.

The $70 million building, said Steven Ansel, a principal in building designer S/L/A/M Collaborative, “is the most innovative science and teaching facility of any university in the nation.”

Dennis Jacobs, the university’s vice president and associate provost, acknowledged the space formerly committed to the sciences at the 165-year-old school was “grossly inadequate.” The new 200,000-square-foot building, the largest academic structure on campus, “is a huge leap forward for the university,” he said.

Lest anyone suspect that a school where 85 percent of students are Catholic would attempt to put a religious spin on what it teaches, officials placed a famous quote from a Ukrainian geneticist in the main atrium. It reads: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution.”

But beyond emphasizing the bedrock principles of the field, the building puts a big emphasis on technology and visualization. Two 250-seat lecture halls feature multiple screens that show experiments done at the front of the room.

Jordan’s most impressive classroom is actually a theater with a 50-foot diameter dome. It features a 16-megapixel, high-resolution digital projection system similar to what’s used in IMAX theaters. The $800,000 room can show everything from solar systems to a gigantic close-up of the inside of a human heart.

Notre Dame has already spent $4.6 million on lab instrumentation. Typically, such high-tech equipment is reserved for research by professors or graduate students, but officials are allowing undergraduates to use it.

For student Ted Kratschmer, an environmental sciences major from Downstate Godfrey, Ill., the new emphasis on science taught in an “absolutely amazing building” — plus the university’s strong faith component — drew him to Notre Dame.

“It’s got the best of both worlds,” said Kratschmer, 20.

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