George P. Mitchell of Houston is spearheading the development of a new science initiative at Texas A&M University with a $35 million gift to support an effort to propel the institution into the front ranks of fundamental physics and astronomy.

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 $44.5 million for the sciences alone.

"I'm interested in helping Texas A&M become one of the world's leading institutions in scientific research, in areas ranging from the far reaches of deep space to the very near halls of higher learning," said George Mitchell, an alumnus of the university. "Having talented physicists and astronomers come to Texas A&M will attract students across the sciences."

Mitchell has commissioned noted architect Michael Graves & Associates to design two buildings that will form the cornerstone of the university's expanded physics and astronomy programs, the George P. and Cynthia W. Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy and the George P. Mitchell '40 Physics Building. The buildings, which will be joined, are to be located on the north side of the campus adjacent to the new Brown Engineering Building. Together, they will provide approximately 155,000 square feet of floor space for teaching and research related to various aspects of physics.

"It was important to commission an architect who would be able to incorporate the innovative nature of these research efforts into the design of their physical plant," Mitchell said. "Michael Graves is a perfect match for the job."

Graves and his firms, Michael Graves & Associates (the architecture and interior design practice) and Michael Graves Design Group (the product design practice), have won over 175 awards for design excellence. Graves, who taught at Princeton University for about 40 years, was the recipient of the 1999 National Medal of Arts and the 2001 American Institute of Architects' Gold Medal. Michael Graves & Associates, based in Princeton, New Jersey, created master plans for portions of Rice University and designed the new building housing the Houston branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, among many other notable projects.

"The Mitchells' generosity will not only significantly enhance scientific research and teaching at Texas A&M but will also firmly establish us as a national leader in an area ripe with opportunity and prospects for discoveries and advancements that can only be dreamed of at this point," said Texas A&M President Robert M. Gates.

"At a time when many are concerned about the future of science and engineering programs in our country, Texas A&M is making an extraordinary statement with the construction of the Mitchell buildings as well as more than $175 million in other construction projects related to science and engineering," Gates said. "We will be adding 200 new faculty positions in these areas. Half are expected to be added in the near term with our ambitious faculty reinvestment program aimed at hiring 447 new faculty members by 2008."

The Mitchells have previously been associated with the creation of seven academic chairs, inclduing 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 addition, they have provided funding that has allowed Texas A&M to be a partner in the Giant Magellan Telescope project, a state-of-the-art, next-generation telescope that is expected to produce images 10 times sharper than those of the Hubble. More than a year ago, Texas A&M announced that it and the University of Texas at Austin would join the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, Harvard University, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Arizona and the University of Michigan as partners in the Giant Magellan Telescope Consortium.

"The Giant Magellan Telescope will provide us with unparalleled insights into and information about the nature of the universe," said Dr. Edward Fry, head of the Physics Department. "The Mitchells' gift has launched Texas A&M into astronomy in a significant way."

For decades, Mitchell has been a major benefactor of Texas A&M's marine-oriented branch campus in Galveston. Among other gifts for Texas A&M University at Galveston, he donated the 135 acres where its main campus is located and which carries his father's name.

The Mitchells also provided major funding for Texas A&M's petroleum engineering department and the new tennis center, which now bears the Mitchell name.


Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or shutchins@tamu.edu or Dr. Edward S. Fry, (979) 845-7717 or fry@physics.tamu.edu

Lau Marilyn

  • Physics Phenomenon

    George Mitchell '40 (seated, middle) has committed $35 million toward construction of two physics buildings at Texas A&M University, to be designed by legendary architect Michael Graves (seated, left). The gift, described by Texas A&M President Robert M. Gates (seated, right) as "unprecedented," marks the largest donation thus far to the University's $1 billion One Spirit One Vision capital campaign.

    Standing (left to right): Donald Birkelbach '70, Director of Development, College of Science; Jim Palincsar, Vice President, Texas A&M Foundation; Dr. Peter McIntyre, Professor of Physics and Mitchell Chair Holder; Dr. Christopher Pope, Professor of Physics and Mitchell Chair Holder; Dr. Edward Fry, Head of Physics and Mitchell Chair Holder; and H. Joseph Newton, Dean of Science.

    (Photos by Kim Coffman and courtesy of Dancie Perugini Ware Public Relations, Houston.)

  • Signature Move

    Mitchell (left) and Gates at a recent signing ceremony to formalize the gift.

  • Partners in Progress

    Mitchell (left) and Gates (right) seal the Texas A&M Physics partnership with a handshake as Graves looks on.

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