Texas A&M University President Robert M. Gates and longtime donor George P. Mitchell '40, along with other university and Texas A&M System officials, broke ground yesterday on two new physics buildings on campus, made possible by a $35 million gift from Mitchell and his wife, Cynthia.

The groundbreaking ceremonies for the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy and for the George P. Mitchell '40 Physics Building mark the first step in a $57 million construction program designed to help move Texas A&M into the front ranks of fundamental physics and astronomy. The joined buildings will have floor space totaling more than 150,000 square feet and include an array of laboratories, classrooms, offices and an auditorium, university officials noted.

Mitchell said he and his wife wanted to give back to his alma mater, and he said he is particularly pleased to see the progress being made at Texas A&M.

He said they wanted to have a hand in Texas A&M President Robert Gates' initiatives to enhance teaching excellence at Texas A&M through a program of new building construction and his faculty reinvestment program. And Gates underscored the significance of the Mitchells' gifts in enhancing teaching and research at the university, calling their gift a "new paradigm" for private construction on the Texas A&M campus.

"Dr. Gates' theories about how to develop a great university have been very important to Texas A&M," Mitchell said, "and I wanted to be part of that development. When you have success, as I have had because of the education I received here, you want to find ways to give back to the university. Because of what we are doing here today, in just a few years Texas A&M will play a major role in the advancement of physics, enhancing the prestige of the entire institution."

Mitchell, a 1940 graduate of Texas A&M in petroleum engineering, resides in Houston with his wife, Cynthia. They have been one of the Texas A&M's largest private supporters, and their latest gift in support of the university's physics initiatives includes a multi-million-dollar allocation for construction support.

"The construction of these buildings is another example of our commitment to excellence in all that we do here at Texas A&M," Gates said. "When they are completed, they will be a testament not only to the enormous generosity of the Mitchells, they will be a testament to the caliber and vision of our faculty here at Texas A&M."

Physics department head Edward S. Fry praised the dramatic effect the new buildings will have on the caliber of physics teaching at Texas A&M, citing Mitchell's enabling the department's involvement with the Giant Magellan Telescope Consortium and his help in bringing a new astronomy program to the campus.

"This telescope will enable us to see to the edges of the universe, to pick out planets orbiting stars other than our own - we owe George Mitchell a tremendous debt of gratitude for what he has done for Texas A&M," Fry said.

H. Joseph Newton, dean of the College of Science, called it a "great day for physics, the College of Science, and all the faculty and students at Texas A&M. Mr. Mitchell's efforts have brought great things to our university, and he and Dr. Fry have helped to ignite a renaissance in physics and all the sciences here."

The Mitchell buildings and an interdisciplinary life sciences complex are the centerpieces for an unprecedented $300 million campus construction program. Groundbreaking for the life sciences building is set for Friday (May 26). Other campus projects in various stages of planning are: an emerging technologies and economic development building, an expansion of the laboratory animal resources and research building, an addition to the veterinary medicine research tower and a new indoor athletic practice facility.

John D. White, chairman of The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents, told the audience that "today is another great day to be an Aggie -- but with people like George Mitchell and the rest of those sitting on this platform, every day is a great day to be an Aggie. Thanks to his efforts, these buildings will help to put Texas A&M's department of physics, along with its College of Science, on a much larger map."

Noting that with his involvement in bringing Texas A&M into the Giant Magellan Telescope Consortium, Mitchell's vision now "extends beyond the stars," Texas A&M University System Chancellor Robert D. McTeer said, adding that "everywhere you turn in the state of Texas, you can see the works of this good Aggie. His generosity means that I will see these buildings rise in my lifetime."

This donation by the oil, gas and land-development entrepreneur and his wife, Cynthia, is the latest in a series supporting the university's scientific development. With previous gifts supporting important additions such as academic chairs, professorships and the Giant Magellan Telescope project, the Mitchells are Texas A&M's most financially supportive benefactors of the modern day, with donations now totaling nearly $49 million for the sciences alone.

The Mitchells have previously been associated with the creation of 10 academic chairs, a career enhancement award and two professorships in physics for Texas A&M. They have also provided major support for post-doctoral fellowships and astronomy lectures. Stephen Hawking, the Cambridge University physicist famous for his theories on black holes and best-selling books about the universe and the namesake of Texas A&M's Mitchell-funded Stephen Hawking Chair in Fundamental Physics, presented public lectures in 2003 at Texas A&M and at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands, Texas to inaugurate the Mitchell Institute at Texas A&M.

In their private lives, Mitchell, a Galveston native, founded his own highly successful exploration company, Mitchell Energy & Development Corp., and envisioned and developed The Woodlands, a 25,000-acre community located north of Houston, while Cynthia Mitchell has been a lifelong champion of artistic and humanitarian causes. The couple also has taken leading roles in rejuvenating Galveston's historic Strand District and helped revise the city's mid-winter Mardi Gras celebration, which now draws 500,000 visitors annually.

The Mitchells' generosity will "not only significantly enhance scientific research and teaching at Texas A&M, it will firmly establish us as a leader in an area ripe with opportunity and prospects for discovery and advancements," Gates said.

"In life, great things happen when opportunity and knowledge meet. When knowledge has the opportunity to be cultivated, to be refined, to be applied, then it has the chance of having a truly significant impact on people and their lives," he added. "The construction of these two world-class physics buildings will enable that meeting of knowledge with opportunity, both for our faculty and our students, and I'm confident that great things will happen."


White Judith

  • Building a Dream

    Artist's rendering of the two Mitchell buildings, which will feature more than 150,000 square feet dedicated to physics teaching and research.

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