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Newly Modernized Lab Officially Dedicated

The Charles C. Gates Jr.–Franklin Thomas Laboratory, a building that will house Caltech's Department of Mechanical and Civil Engineering and the administrative offices for the Division of Engineering and Applied Science (EAS), was officially dedicated with an opening ceremony on Monday, June 1. Mechanical and Civil Engineering is one of seven departments in EAS. 

by Shayna Chabner McKinney-Caltech News Office
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modernized spaceThe celebration included remarks from key Caltech leaders and donors, as well as tours of the modernized space, and laboratory and research poster presentations. Among the many upgrades to the mid-twentieth century-era building was the creation of indoor and outdoor open spaces to encourage faculty, researchers, and scholars to freely share their ideas. Pictured above, the grass amphitheater area on the right connects the Gates-Thomas Laboratory to the Sherman Fairchild Library.Photo Credit: Lance Hayashida/CaltechThe celebration, open to all members of the Caltech community, included tours of the reimagined space, laboratory demonstrations, and research poster presentations, as well as remarks from key administrative leaders and donors who were instrumental in transforming the Gates-Thomas Laboratory from the mid-twentieth century to the present.

Over the last year, the building—formerly known as the Franklin Thomas Laboratory of Engineering—was modernized with both the lab's history and the future in mind. With a nod to the past, the renovation includes the building's original iron railings as well as artistic etchings and imagery that reference prior research in earthquake engineering and hydrodynamics. Looking to the future, the energy-efficient, renovated building features state-of-the-art laboratories and experimental and computational facilities, along with open spaces where faculty, scholars, and students—including the department's roughly 70 graduate students and 100 undergraduates—can share ideas across disciplines. The upgrades, which were conducted using sustainable building practices and make Gates-Thomas Laboratory eligible for LEED Gold certification, include LED lighting, smart occupancy controls, the use of low-flow fixtures, and, in the public spaces outside, the installation of a drip-irrigation system with landscaping featuring native plants adapted to the local climate.

"These beautiful public spaces . . . the amphitheater directly behind me, which connects the Gates-Thomas Laboratory to the Sherman Fairchild Library, and the Housner Lounge at the heart of the second floor of the building . . . are hubs of activity not only for one department, but across our division and across the Institute," said Ares Rosakis, the Otis Booth Leadership Chair of EAS and the Theodore von Kármán Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering, in remarks prior to the official ribbon-cutting ceremony.

"Caltech is a destination for people who want to fulfill their dreams—their dreams of discovery in science and engineering," President Thomas F. Rosenbaum said. "It is as Ares pointed out: Our shared culture, our belief in excellence, our belief in focus, our belief in ambition; the intimacy and intensity of work that gives us the leg up where people can see—whether they are students, faculty, or staff, trustees, friends of the Institute—can see that this is the place where those dreams can be realized.

"When we attract people here, and we tell them about this culture, when they hear and know about this culture, it goes a long way, but it's not enough," Rosenbaum added. "We also need the tools that allow them to succeed; that allow them to make those discoveries that will transform the world. And it is buildings like Gates-Thomas—the environment that has been created this way—that gives them the confidence, that gives them the ability to be able to make those discoveries."

The laboratory is named after two stewards of the Institute: Charles C. Gates Jr. (1921–2005), a businessman, philanthropist, and longtime Caltech trustee; and Franklin Thomas (1885–1952), first chair of the division that became EAS, as well as a civil engineering professor and the dean of students. The renovation was supported by the Gates Frontiers Fund through the guidance of Diane G. Wallach and John S. Gates; the Fred L. Hartley Family Foundation; James E. Hall (BS '57) and his wife, Sandy; and Li-San Hwang (PhD '65) and his wife, Anne.

"We are here today, giving to this project, because it's got a future," said Wallach, Gates's daughter. She noted how proud her father would be today to see the building and the work it will enable. "Charlie would be the first to applaud working together in hopes of reducing our dependence on shrinking public funding, innovating in the classroom, finding ways to leverage great learning and brain power, engaging industry and local communities in our efforts, and streamlining how we move ideas from labs into the marketplace. Certainly this facility behind us came together in this spirit, and I think that is what he would have been so excited to celebrate today."