When 72 members of the Yale class of 1954 decided at their 25th class reunion to invest $380,000 to be donated to the University at their 50th reunion, they did not expect that amount to grow to $70 million. Their investment is now responsible for the construction of Yale’s new world-class chemistry research building.
Monday, the donors of the 54/50 Fund, as donors named their gift, saw their money in action at the dedication of the Class of 1954 Chemistry Research Building on 285 Prospect St., behind Sterling Chemistry Laboratory. The $50 million building is designed especially for hood-intensive research, involving the synthesis of new molecules. Yale officials hope this building will attract prominent scientists at both the professional and student levels as the University seeks to improve its science programs.
At the dedication, speakers said the event was significant for both its effects on scientific research at Yale and its demonstration of how collaboration between Yale and donors can make a difference in the University.
The building will enhance Yale scientists’ ability to do research and attract new students and researchers, as it contains a sophisticated air handling system to protect scientists from harmful chemicals, Chemistry Chairman Gary Brudvig said.
All of the speakers said they think the University had needed a new scientific research facility for years.
Yale Provost Andrew Hamilton said that in 1995 when the University hired him, they wooed him with future construction plans to convince him that Yale was prioritizing the sciences.
“One of the things Yale used to hire me was the promise of a new building,” Hamilton said at the dedication. “That was in 1995. That was my first taste of Yale time.”
The construction of the science facility Hamilton referred to was long delayed because of insufficient funds. But in 2000, that was no longer a problem because the 54/50 donors agreed to donate the funds — which had grown to a sizeable $70 million, due to the investment overseen by 54/50 — four years early in order to enable the construction of the building, as Yale President Richard Levin requested.
The class, which has also donated money to improve the Yale Bowl and build the Class of 1954 Environmental Science Center, dedicated in 2001, agreed to turn the money over with the understanding that most of the money would be going to science, though most donors were not science majors.
James Greer II ’54, a 54/50 donor said he was hopeful that other classes would follow suit in showing school and class spirit through donations to Yale.
Research in the chemistry facility has already begun, including work on solar energy involving a collaboration between scientists in the different branches of chemistry among various universities, Brudvig said. Before the dedication, Yale hosted a symposium featuring presentations by chemists from different universities, all in the five brances of chemistry.
Still, the ultimate success in constructing the building, Hamilton said, was due to the collaboration between the administration, the faculty, and the 54/50 donors. In order to demonstrate the strength of collaboration, Hamilton had a representative from each group help to perform a chemical reaction, in which three clear liquids were mixed together, resulting in an oscillating reaction in which the product cycled between yellow and Yale blue.
“It only works when all three components of the reaction are present,” Hamilton said. “Cooperation is vital for continued Yale success, as this reaction continues again and again and again.”