Flemings’ $10M gift to establish molecular engineering lab

A suite of state-of-the-art molecular engineering laboratories is being constructed inside Olin Hall, thanks to a $10 million dollar gift from Sam ’62 and Nancy Fleming.

An artist's rendering of the Samuel C. Fleming Molecular Engineering Laboratories in Olin Hall.

The gift will establish the Samuel C. Fleming Molecular Engineering Laboratories – 7,300 square feet of new laboratory space on the second and third floors of Olin Hall’s north wing. The space will be used for research on drug design, drug delivery, biomedical diagnostics and the discovery of new materials.

Three faculty members and their research programs within the Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering will share the space and equipment:

  • Nick Abbott, Tisch University Professor, an innovator in colloid and interface science;
  • Chris Alabi, assistant professor, an expert in synthetic and biophysical chemistry; and
  • Rong Yang, assistant professor, who specializes in material design for biomedical applications.

“These faculty members represent a powerful cluster who truly engineer systems from the molecular scale,” said Abe Stroock, William C. Hooey Director of the Smith School. “This laboratory space will allow them to continue to develop new chemical design principles, synthesize their own molecules and pursue a rich array of applications in biomedical and environmental contexts.”

For example, Abbott recently demonstrated liquid crystal droplets that can hold a variety of “micro-cargo,” including medicines, and escort them through a biological environment until the crystals come in contact with a predetermined target. The new lab space will allow Abbott, who developed the crystals at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to advance his work at Cornell.

The Fleming Laboratories – Olin Hall’s first major addition of lab space in 30 years – are an important upgrade as the school continues to grow. Its faculty has increased by 50 percent since 2000, including the addition of Abbott in 2018 and Yang, who will join in July.

Stroock said the gift and unique laboratory space will make the school an international focal point for discoveries that will define molecular engineering in the decades to come.

“Not only will the lab space recognize the enduring legacy of one of our most successful alumni in Sam Fleming, but it will enable us to attract and retain top scholars in the field,” said Stroock.

The Smith School was one of the first chemical engineering programs in the country to include “biomolecular” in its name, adding the word in 2002 to acknowledge the increasingly important role of researching biomolecules like proteins and DNA.

Sam Fleming, who served as a Cornell trustee emeritus until his death in May, had been a champion of Cornell’s growth in biomolecular engineering. In 2015, he and his family supported the school through an endowment of graduate fellowships in that field.

The Fleming Laboratories are part of a larger renovation project that will transform Olin Hall’s interior, giving it new space for research, teaching and student interactions. The computation labs and faculty offices currently occupying the upper floors of the north wing have moved to the first floor. Construction on the second and third floors is underway with the new laboratories expected to be completed in late September.

Syl Kacapyr is public relations and content manager for the College of Engineering.

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Jeff Tyson