History of the Molecular Engineering & Sciences Institute

The “MolE” Vision

In 2007, UW Provost Phyllis Wise charged a group of faculty members from the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Engineering, and the School of Medicine with the nontrivial mission “. . . to prepare a roadmap for the campus that defines what a high impact Molecular Engineering program should include, and a plan for implementing such a program at the University of Washington.”  This “MolE Working Group” was established in January and met regularly throughout the year to survey educational opportunities and needs, potential research synergies, and organizational fit, and to provide recommendations for the planning of an interdisciplinary building connected to the program.

The group identified Molecular Engineering as one of the most important, cutting-edge, and rapidly-evolving interdisciplinary frontiers and urged the UW to take advantage of the strong culture of collaboration and the “pockets of excellence” in departments and research centers in the sciences, engineering, and medical disciplines. Though at the time Molecular Engineering did not exist anywhere as a formal academic discipline, the group was emphatic in their recommendation to create a new interdisciplinary institute in molecular engineering that would initiate vibrant graduate and undergraduate programs to “catalyze the emerging impact of the field” in academia and industry. The building, they advised, should be designed “with the most flexible and evolvable lab and utilities design, with minimal walls to enhance interdisciplinary group research and to optimize future re-organization and realignment of research facilities.”

From Vision to Reality

This vision quickly took shape under the leadership of Provost Wise and Frank & Julie Jungers Dean of Engineering Matt O’Donnell, with the support and guidance of the working group and deans, faculty, and staff across the UW. Groundbreaking for a state-of-the-art building at the heart of the UW campus began in 2009. Washington Research Foundation Professor of Bioengineering Pat Stayton was appointed as Director and Chemical Engineering Professor René Overney was appointed Associate Director for Education in 2010.  The Molecular Engineering & Sciences (MolES) Institute was founded in 2011.

Housed in the MolES Building since its completion in 2012, the Institute provides dedicated space for shared instrumentation and collaboratories where new interdisciplinary teams can come together to explore and develop new approaches and ideas. Specially sited and designed to minimize vibration and electromagnetic interference, the building is also home to an advanced Molecular Analysis Facility that gathers sensitive characterization, nanofabrication, and surface analysis instrumentation. The building houses more than 15 faculty members, 3 research centers and 4 major instrumentation centers.

The Future of MolES

Under the direction of Pat Stayton the Institute has grown to include nearly 100 faculty members and has successfully integrated the faculty, staff, events, and activities of the Center for Nanotechnology (CNT) into its operations. The CNT, established by Professors Viola Vogel and Charlie Campbell through the University Initiative Fund and in operation from 1997 – 2012, was founded with the goal of catalyzing nanoscale science and technology research, educating the next generation of academic and industrial leaders, and providing cutting edge instrumentation for nanoscale fabrication and characterization to regional, national and international users. The MolES Institute continues to support this mission, bringing together faculty teams and research centers across the UW to develop solutions for major societal challenges in the areas of Clean Technology and Biotechnology and providing dedicated space for research collaboratories and shared instrumentation.

In 2013 the NanoTech Dual Titled Degree program was updated and revised to include aspects of molecular engineering, and the resulting Nanotechnology and Molecular Engineering (NTME) Program was adopted by all participating departments. An independent Ph.D. program in Molecular Engineering (MolE) intended to provide breadth in its fundamental molecular description of matter and depth in its specialization toward molecular systems has been offered since Autumn 2014.

Following the recommendations of the working group, the MolES Institute will remain flexible and responsive as it looks toward the future – aligning its efforts with the most creative molecular engineering and sciences research wherever it is occurring.