Amid uncertainty around the future flow of federal research dollars, Northeastern University celebrated the grand opening of its new Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex on Monday, pointing to the $225 million facility as evidence of the school’s growing ambition and its commitment to scientific advances in Massachusetts.
“This complex is a statement that this city, this state, thrive because of discovery, because of research, because of learning,” Northeastern President Joseph Aoun said.
US Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, US Representative Joseph Kennedy III, and Mayor Martin Walsh joined Aoun to officially recognize the Columbus Avenue complex, which opened its doors to students and faculty at the beginning of this semester.
The new ISEC complex features 234,000 square feet of academic space focused on drug discovery, robotics, and security research. Displayed in the building’s atrium Monday morning were demonstrations of Northeastern research and development including a Valkyrie humanoid robot prototype developed with NASA for possible use on Mars, and an example of how health care delivery could benefit from robots.
“This new complex will be a gleaming way station where students can punch their passport to the jobs of the future and prepare themselves to join the workforce after graduation,” Markey said.
The completion of the facility “signifies a major shift in the culture, history, and trajectory of Northeastern University,” according to the university. The one-time commuter school is ramping up its research budget to become “a powerhouse on par with the nation’s elite research colleges and universities” and Provost James Bean said the opening of the ISEC will “accelerate Northeastern’s momentum.”
The university’s federal research funding has more than doubled in the last 10 years, Bean said, and Northeastern currently receives more than $130 million a year in federal research funding. Since the 2006-2007 academic year, Northeastern has hired 565 new tenured and tenure-track faculty in disciplines tied directly to its research goals, Bean said, and the school plans to recruit additional faculty in coming years.
Northeastern last year was named one of the 115 universities with the “highest research activity” by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.
Although the grand opening was intended as a celebration of research, the speaking program veered instead into a defense of research at a time when funding from the federal government is increasingly in doubt.