Texas A&M University will celebrate the future of physics and astronomy and the power of public-private partnerships later this week in the official dedication of two new physics buildings, located in the northeast quadrant of the main Texas A&M campus.

On Friday (Dec. 4) at 2 p.m., Texas A&M and Texas A&M System administrators will join George P. Mitchell, a 1940 distinguished petroleum engineering graduate of Texas A&M and founder of Mitchell Energy & Development Corp., for a ceremony to officially dedicate the George P. Mitchell '40 Physics Building and the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy.

The invitation-only event will be held in the first-floor atrium area of the Mitchell Institute, located at the corner of University Drive and Ireland Street directly across from the Northside Parking Garage. Parking will be available in the garage.

Invited speakers in addition to George P. Mitchell and architect Michael Graves include Texas A&M University System Board of Regents Vice Chairman James P. Wilson, Chancellor Michael D. McKinney, Interim University President R. Bowen Loftin, United States Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Texas A&M Dean of Science H. Joseph Newton, and Head of Physics and Astronomy Edward S. Fry. Additional remarks will be presented by physics professors Christopher N. Pope, director of the Mitchell Institute; Marlan O. Scully, director of the Institute for Quantum Science and Engineering; and Nicholas B. Suntzeff, director of the Texas A&M astronomy program.

Mitchell, the undisputed father of the Barnett Shale, was the pioneer of horizontal drilling with a light sand frac. It took him 17 years of experimentation to demonstrate that this approach to extracting gas from shale formations was economically viable. The exploitation of this technology has opened up huge natural gas reserves that have changed the national energy map.

In addition to Mitchell Energy, which was one of the largest independent gas and oil producers in the nation before merging with Devon Energy in 2002, Mitchell also founded The Woodlands, where he has resided for nearly 25 years, and the Houston Advanced Research Center. Throughout a successful career in the petroleum industry, he retained a lifelong interest in physics and astronomy, an interest he shared with his wife, Cynthia.

In 2005 the Mitchells pledged $35 million toward the construction of the $82.5 million physics buildings and commissioned noted architect Michael Graves and his firms, Michael Graves & Associates and Michael Graves Design Group, for their design. The buildings, the first on campus to be financed through a public-private partnership involving substantial donor funds, are named in the Mitchells' honor and in recognition of their generous support of Texas A&M's programs in fundamental physics and astronomy.

"We are extremely grateful to Mr. Mitchell for his generosity and the significant investment that he has made in the future of Texas A&M," said Interim President R. Bowen Loftin '71. "These two buildings are truly a testament to the significant growth and collective strength of Texas A&M's programs in physics and astronomy and will add momentum to the university's progress to be among the very best public universities in America by 2020."

Construction of the two buildings, which are joined by a crosswalk, began in 2006 under the leadership of then-Texas A&M President and current U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates. Together they provide more than 197,000 square feet of floor space for a department that has grown from 45 to 68 faculty members in the past decade. In addition to research and teaching laboratories; faculty, graduate student and staff offices; and faculty, graduate and undergraduate lounges; they feature a primary lecture hall that can be used as one large 468-seat room or converted into three separate 156-seat rooms as well as a 180-seat auditorium named in honor of world-renowned Cambridge University theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking.

Hailed as permanent showpieces for quality architecture and focal points of the Texas A&M campus, the Mitchell Physics Buildings provide a permanent home for consolidated physics teaching and research activities. From the Foucault pendulum and Penrose tile that dazzle visitors as they enter the Mitchell Institute to the high-tech classrooms and teaching laboratories that dominate the Mitchell Physics Building, the two facilities collectively deliver on the Mitchells' original vision of them as the cornerstone of the university's expanded physics and astronomy programs.

"The study of physics is an essential part of a good science education," Mitchell said. "I believe that the physics program at Texas A&M will continue to foster important research and attract outstanding students and faculty from all over the world. I hope these buildings will provide an innovative and inspiring atmosphere for students and faculty to study, teach, research and enjoy the many exciting challenges of physics."

As with other new buildings on the Texas A&M campus, the Mitchell Physics Buildings are designed to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver standards -- a national rating scale developed by the United States Green Building Council to encourage more sustainable buildings. Their many green features include a revolutionary heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) system that uses natural convection currents in the Mitchell Institute's six-story atrium as both a return air and smoke exhaustion path, as well as a cistern that collects and stores both condensate and rainfall that will be used to irrigate exterior landscapes and Texas A&M's first rooftop garden, the 10,000 square-foot Cynthia Woods Mitchell Garden, which is located over the three-section lecture hall in the Mitchell Physics Building.

The Mitchells are among the most financially supportive benefactors in Texas A&M's 133-year history. Their contributions to Texas A&M physics alone, which include funding for nine academic chairs and professorships and Texas A&M's partnership in the Giant Magellan Telescope, total nearly $52 million since 2002. In addition, they have provided funding for the first-ever chair in the Department of Statistics and endowments in the Department of Petroleum Engineering as well as for the George P. Mitchell '40 Tennis Center.

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.

Visitors will have the opportunity to tour the buildings and meet a variety of physics professors and researchers after the dedication ceremony.

For more information on the event, including driving directions and parking, please contact the Texas A&M College of Science at (979) 845-7361.

To learn more about the Mitchell Physics Buildings or physics and astronomy at Texas A&M, visit http://www.physics.tamu.edu/.


Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or shutchins@science.tamu.edu

Hutchins Shana

  • Home Sweet Home

    The George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy and George P. Mitchell '40 Physics Buildings, to be dedicated Friday, provide more than 197,000 square feet of floor space for the Texas A&M Department of Physics and Astronomy, which has grown from 45 to 68 faculty members in the past decade. (Photograph by Richard Payne.)

  • Cynthia & George P. Mitchell '40

    Cynthia and George P. Mitchell '40 pledged $35 million toward construction of the $82.5 million buildings, which were designed by noted architect Michael Graves and his firms, Michael Graves & Associates and Michael Graves Design Group. (Photograph courtesy of the Mitchell family.)

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