New State-of-the-Art Facility to Transform Research in Nanotechnology, Materials Science and Engineering and Chemical Engineering

Nov. 10, 2006 -- The University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science today dedicated Wilsdorf Hall, a $43.4 million state-of-the-art facility designed to foster collaborative research in materials science and engineering, chemical engineering and nanotechnology, in a ceremony attended by more than 250 people.

The dedication, which was held in the Wilsdorf Hall courtyard, featured remarks by University President John T. Casteen III, Engineering School Dean James H. Aylor, lead donor and Engineering School alumnus Greg Olsen, and Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf, professor emerita of applied science and one of Olsen's mentors in graduate school.

"The dedication and opening of Wilsdorf Hall is a true milestone representing major growth in the U.Va. Engineering School," said James H. Aylor, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. "While this new state-of-the-art research facility will immediately help us begin to reach our goals in terms of collaborative research and providing our students with the space they need to learn and to grow, Wilsdorf Hall will also provide a home for future research in areas that have not yet been conceptualized."

Casteen remarked that many buildings at universities around the world are named for faculty members, but that it was unusual for a building with major private funding to be named in honor of faculty members by a former student. "The mentoring relationship that Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf had with Greg Olsen is a shining example of the vital and treasured relationships that exist between our faculty members and our students."

Casteen praised Olsen as well for raising the bar with his gift to the school. "Greg Olsen's gift of $15 million is the largest that has ever come to the Engineering School," he said. "It represents a kind of threshold in our great institution."

Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf also cited the ties that connected one generation to another in the Engineering School. "I knew [Dean Aylor] as a student and his father as a cherished professor, and to be able to stand here in reasonably good health with my colleagues -- I am honored." Aylor's father taught in the Engineering School for 35 years.

Designed by the Charlottesville architectural firm VMDO Architects P.C., in consultation with the professors who will conduct research there, “the building is extraordinary in many ways,” said architect Terry Forbes.

Of the five floors in the building, two are below ground; the lowest floor is designed to suppress vibrations in order to allow sensitive equipment on that floor to perform research functions at the nanoscale level. Electric power comes into the building through a well-isolated switching room before it is distributed in the building, shielding laboratory equipment from electrical and magnetic fields. There is also an air handling isolation system that traps and contains chemicals, and a delivery system with multiple functions that weaves overhead through the labs.

“Wilsdorf Hall is one of only a handful of buildings that have ever been designed this way,” Forbes said.

"Institutions must have quality faculty and students to thrive, and to attract those faculty and students, they must have quality facilities and equipment," Aylor said in his remarks before the ribbon-cutting. "Wilsdorf Hall will provide us with the tools to take advantage of the opportunity before us."

Preceding the reception, the Engineering School hosted a panel discussion, “Nanotechnology: A New Discipline for World-Class Engineers,” at 1 p.m. in Minor Hall Room 125. Moderated by Robert Hull, professor of materials science, panelists included representatives from the National Science Foundation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, MITRE Corp., the U.S. Naval Research Lab and the Georgetown University Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Constructed by Barton Malow Co., Wilsdorf Hall is a 99,000-square-foot, five-story structure that houses laboratories, the U.Va. Center on Nanoscopic Materials Design, educational demonstration areas for undergraduate and graduate students, the latest computational facilities, conference rooms and a community café. It is physically connected to the Engineering School’s materials science and engineering and chemical engineering buildings and the chemistry library.

“Wilsdorf Hall is a major step forward in Virginia’s commitment to best-in-class science and engineering education, built on the promise of collaborative research that will yield breakthrough discoveries for the global marketplace,” said Aneesh Chopra, Virginia secretary of technology.

During its $3 billion capital campaign, which was announced publicly in September and is slated to run through 2011, the University has set a goal of $268 million for new laboratories and other research facilities.

“In the capital campaign now under way, we intend to transform our capacities for scientific research and to position the University as an international leader among research institutions, with core strengths in science and engineering,” Casteen said. “Wilsdorf Hall will be a tremendous asset to us as we work toward that goal.”

The construction of Wilsdorf Hall was funded with a lead gift of $15 million from Gregory H. Olsen (’71) in honor of two faculty members – the late Heinz G. F. Wilsdorf, professor and the first chair of the Department of Materials Science, and University Professor of Applied Science Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf (emerita). Olsen founded EPITAXX, a manufacturer of optical detectors and receivers used in telecommunications, in 1984 and another company, Sensors Unlimited Inc., in 1991. Last year, he became the third private citizen to travel to the International Space Station.

Speaking about the Wilsdorfs at the ceremony, Olsen said, "Their hard work and dedication enabled many students, like me, to study materials and to go on to have successful careers in the field.

"To Doris and Heinz, I'd like to say thank you, thank you, thank you."

A suite of laboratories and the connection between Wilsdorf Hall and the chemistry library was made possible by a generous gift from the Matthews family in honor of the late John W. Matthews, a U.Va. physicist who pioneered the understanding of epitaxy, the growth of crystals in layers that are used in making computer chips and micro-processors.

“We often speak about the transformations made possible through the generosity of our alumni, and that is especially true in this case,” said Aylor. “This building will allow research in materials characterization at the atomic level that hasn’t been possible due to the need for mechanical and electrical isolation and stabilization. This new environment and the research it allows will foster both formal and informal interdisciplinary collaborations across the Engineering School and throughout the entire University.”

Casteen added, “Greg Olsen’s gift is a wonderful tribute to the Wilsdorfs and also a testament to the enduring impact of teaching and mentoring. Our faculty members educate women and men who go on to exceptional achievement in their professional lives, and when those women and men give back to the University, they create opportunities for new generations of teachers and students to sustain excellence.”

Additional funding for Wilsdorf Hall came from University resources; private and corporate donors, including the Richards S. Reynolds and Merck Foundations; and from a state bond issue. For further information about Wilsdorf Hall, see:

Panel Discussion
 “Nanotechnology: A New Discipline for World-Class Engineers”
1 p.m. Minor Hall Room 125
Moderator: Professor Robert Hull

•  Mihail C. Roco, senior advisor for nanotechnology, National Science Foundation, lead panelist
• Michelle V. Buchanan, associate laboratory director, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
• Andrew Maynard, chief science advisor to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
• James C. Ellenbogen, senior principal scientist, Nanosystems Group, MITRE Corp.
• Esther H. Chang, professor of oncology and otolaryngology, Georgetown University Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center
• Bhakta B. Rath, associate director of research and head of the Materials Science and Component Technology Directorate, U.S. Naval Research Lab
About the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science

Founded in 1836, the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science combines research and educational opportunities at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Within the undergraduate programs, courses in engineering, ethics, mathematics, the sciences and the humanities are available to build a strong foundation for careers in engineering and other professions. Its abundant research opportunities complement the curriculum and educate young men and women to become thoughtful leaders in technology and society. At the graduate level, the Engineering School collaborates with the University’s highly ranked medical and business schools on interdisciplinary research projects and entrepreneurial initiatives. With a distinguished faculty and a student body of 2,000 undergraduates and 650 graduate students, the Engineering School offers an array of engineering disciplines, including cutting-edge research programs in computer and information science and engineering, bioengineering and nanotechnology. For more information, visit

Dedication Schedule
Friday, Nov. 10

1 p.m. – Panel discussion: “Nanotechnology: A New Discipline for World-Class Engineers”
Minor Hall Room 125

3 p.m. – Dedication
Wilsdorf Hall Courtyard

4 p.m. – Reception and building tours
Wilsdorf Hall Atrium