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September 24, 2001

New Marine Sciences Building Dedicated

During a ceremony on the banks of Long Island Sound, UConn officials Wednesday cut a seaweed ribbon marking the dedication of the $24 million Marine Sciences Building at Avery Point. The building is the critical foundation for the University's Marine Sciences Program to become one of the nation's top programs in coastal marine sciences.

"The University of Connecticut has long been the site of excellent work in marine sciences, and this building gives us a facility to match the quality of our instructional and research program," said President Philip E. Austin. He spoke before an audience of about 300 state and local dignitaries, UConn marine sciences faculty, and students.

"This building and this campus give us the capacity to build on a very strong foundation and move into the very select company of institutions recognized as leaders in the marine sciences field," Austin said. "The progress at UConn takes many forms in many parts of the state. Here in this magnificent location along the coast, it takes the form of a major initiative in a field of great importance to the economy of Connecticut, the New England region, and indeed the nation as a whole."

The Marine Sciences Building was funded by the UConn 2000 program. The 140,000-square foot structure replaces two 1940s-era concrete block buildings that were originally intended by the Coast Guard for temporary use.

"If ever there was a natural linkage between a university and its community, it is the connection between marine sciences and this part of our state," Austin said. "This is a relationship to be cherished, nurtured, and expanded, and we are firmly committed to moving in that direction."

The University has embarked on a mission to develop a Center of Excellence in coastal marine sciences and, over the next five years, become one of the top programs in the nation. The field is relatively unstudied. While most institutions focus their research on either the deep ocean or the land, the intersection of the two has yet to receive as much attention.

The coastal zone is integral to the economic health of the state, region, and nation, and it is an area where humans have great influence and impact. More than 50 percent of the U.S. population lives within 100 miles of an ocean.

Chancellor John D. Petersen said marine sciences is one of the University's top priorities. There are other institutions with an international reputation in deep water ("blue water") marine science, he said. "But the action these days is in coastal studies, 'green water'. Our goal is to be one of the top three green-water programs in the country."

Robert Whitlatch, head of the program, said "This facility is among the best in the nation for doing comprehensive research in coastal areas. It is a seawater, chemical, and biology facility all wrapped up in one. Combine that with our research vessel and our location on Long Island Sound - a natural laboratory - and we are uniquely positioned to move forward in new arenas of research, education, and outreach."

Some of the building's many highlights include environmental chambers in which temperature and light can be controlled to mimic specific conditions in most bodies of water; teaching laboratories designed for specific needs in chemistry, biology and hydro dynamics instruction; and four "clean" chemistry labs for precise measurement of heavy metals, organic pollutants and other chemical compounds.

Laura Baumgartner, a second-year doctoral student, who spoke at the ceremony on behalf of marine sciences students, said that beyond the physical and research attributes of the new building are the benefits of improving the academic atmosphere. Because the department was previously separated into several buildings, students used to go days without seeing each other.

"That isolation is gone. Our labs are now joined into one giant hallway of industrious research," Baumgartner said. "Communication is a valuable part of graduate education and of the integrative nature of science."

Whitlatch said the new facility is already paying dividends. "We've always believed that having the very best facility can help attract quality faculty and students. And now that the doors to our new building are open, we've attracted an important corporate partner as well."

Sun Microsystems of Palo Alto, Calif., has designated the UConn Marine Sciences Program as the first Sun Center of Excellence for Oceanography.

"Sun chose the University of Connecticut to be the Center for Excellence for Oceanography because it is leading the way for a new generation of oceanographic research," said Joseph Hartley, director of U.S. sales.

As part of its partnership with UConn, Sun has donated high-performance computing equipment valued at nearly $2 million.

UConn is leading a multi-institutional effort to develop advanced technology for an ocean monitoring system. The Sun equipment will play an integral role in formulating essential computer models enabling scientists to detect, track and predict changes in the physical and biological systems of the ocean.

"This is a phenomenal opportunity for the UConn Marine Sciences Program," said Whitlatch. "Our affiliation with Sun elevates our profile in the marine sciences community, and we now house the computing power many scientists dream about."

Karen A. Grava

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