Campus News Science & Technology

The future of Science Hill

The Chemistry and Biological Sciences buildings will undergo major renovations as the university continues to ramp up its research enterprise and STEM education. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

The University of Georgia’s rapidly expanding research enterprise has created a challenge—providing enough space for UGA’s scientists to conduct their innovative work.

Fortunately, the university’s leaders anticipated this challenge and created a multi-year capital plan to build, renovate and modernize hundreds of thousands of square feet devoted to research and innovation in and around the section of campus known as Science Hill. The capital plan emphasizes the development of research opportunities in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“To remain one of the nation’s top research universities, the University of Georgia must maximize its available facilities devoted to scientific inquiry,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “Our comprehensive plan combines new and renovated research facilities to achieve our goals in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.”

An essential element of the plan is the modernization of existing research facilities on Science Hill, including approximately 105,000 square feet in the original Chemistry Building to accommodate a significant portion of the research activities currently housed in the adjacent Biological Sciences Building.

The more than 120,000 square feet of available laboratory space in the Biological Sciences Building will then be modernized to accommodate remaining biological sciences research as well as additional future STEM research activities—especially growth in the computational sciences, reflecting the dramatic expansion of large data sets used in virtually all areas of research today.

Facilities such as the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center, the Paul D. Coverdell Center for Biomedical Sciences and the Center for Molecular Medicine continue to showcase the university’s longstanding leadership in groundbreaking research. But there is a significant need to update aging facilities, particularly on Science Hill, where buildings constructed in the 1960s comprise more than 700,000 square feet of academic space—most of which is devoted to scientific research laboratories.

“Whether it’s finding new cures for diseases or developing sustainable solutions for the 21st century, our faculty and our students are addressing the most pressing problems of our time,” said David Lee, vice president for research. “Creating and modernizing research space to better support their work will attract gifted minds to UGA and generate the environment to uncover new solutions and boost economic development.”

The Science Learning Center, completed in 2016, was the first piece of the overall plan. A significant number of undergraduate instructional laboratories were relocated from Science Hill to this new instructional STEM facility.

Another foundation of the Science Hill capital plan is the addition of the Interdisciplinary STEM Research Buildings, which—when complete—will create approximately 200,000 square feet of new space for research and instruction.

The $65 million first phase of I-STEM, currently under construction off East Campus Road, is scheduled for completion in fall 2021. The $70 million second phase is on schedule for design drawings in fall 2020 with construction set to begin as soon as funding is appropriated.

The I-STEM complex will feature flexible, open lab spaces designed to promote collaboration and elevate UGA’s expanding lab-intensive research activities. The critical new space provided by the I-STEM buildings will be the primary catalyst for a planned series of research renovation and relocation projects that will continue until all existing Science Hill research facilities are modernized.

“New and renovated state-of-the-art STEM space will advance UGA’s teaching and research missions,” said Provost S. Jack Hu. “Many of our undergraduates engage in research with our faculty members, gaining valuable experiential learning opportunities. These facilities also will enhance the recruitment of graduate students in STEM fields whose research is crucial to the economic competitiveness of our state and nation.”

Over the past five years, the university’s R&D expenditures have jumped by more than 34 percent—reaching a record $477.5 million in fiscal year 2019.

The growth in research expenditures is due in large part to the success of UGA faculty in winning grants and contracts. Notable recent examples include:

  • Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar Ted Ross in the College of Veterinary Medicine, who last fall received an award of up to $130 million from the National Institutes of Health to develop a universal flu vaccine;
  • Distinguished Research Professor Jessie Kissinger in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, who won two awards in the past year totaling up to $16.2 million to develop health informatics databases;
  • And associate professor David Okech in the School of Social Work, who since 2018 has been awarded nearly $20 million from the U.S. Department of State to combat human trafficking.

Investments in modern STEM facilities also will bolster efforts to commercialize research at UGA. Over the past six years, UGA has ranked among the nation’s top 5 universities for the number of new products entering the market based on the university’s research.

“The challenges for adequate research space on our main campus will continue to grow in the years ahead as our research enterprise expands,” said Morehead. “However, this is a good problem for all of us, working together, to solve.”