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Caltech Breaks Ground on Center for Climate Research

In 2024, California Institute of Technology in Pasadena will open the Resnick Sustainability Center that will provide equipment and resources for fields such as solar science, climate science, energy and biofuels.

Caltech, California Institute of Technology
(TNS) — Pasadena's California Institute of Technology, one of the premier institutions in the world of science, took a step this week toward the launch of the much anticipated Resnick Sustainability Center, a 79,500-square-foot project that school leaders believe will "open new portals to sustainability" in the realms of research and education.

Once open in 2024, the Resnick Sustainability Center is expected to serve as a hub where Resnick Fellows, Caltech scholars and researchers from throughout the world can gather to harness their talents while investigating the challenges of global sustainability and climate change.

The Resnick Sustainability Institute was made possible after a $750 million pledge to Caltech in 2019 by billionaire philanthropists and owners of The Wonderful Company, Lynda and Stewart Resnick.

The donation is among the largest ever dedicated to environmental research, so the pair was joined by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Pasadena Mayor Victor Gordo and campus leaders on Wednesday, May 4, to celebrate the sustainability center's groundbreaking during a ceremony and luncheon.

At the lectern Wednesday, Newsom remembered feeling surprised when he first learned his friend intended to donate nearly a billion dollars to the prominent Pasadena-based university.

Years later, however, Newsom said, the gift is more valuable than ever considering the "extreme heat, extreme drought, extreme wildfires" that are plaguing the state, country and world.

"We've lost traditions, lifestyles — we lost places," Newsom said, highlighting recent fires in Paradis as well as the Dixie fire that destroyed the city of Greenville in 2021.

"It's not just about CO2 (carbon dioxide). This is existential," Newsom added. "We cannot continue to raise generations in a world that is heating up, kids are choking up and so much of our planet is burning up. This is a moral moment, and so, we want to celebrate this moment of contribution."

After a standing ovation from attendees, Stewart Resnick said Caltech has always been a place where humans turn to in moments of extreme vulnerability.

"Now more than ever we need that work," Resnick said, adding, "our last hope — our only hope is innovation."

But hope alone is not a strategy in the world of business, according to Resnick. The world, if it wishes to become truly sustainable, "must focus our energies, our resources and our collective commitments on solutions," he said. Otherwise, everything else humanity has done will mean nothing.

"So today here we stand, a handful of tiny specks on this big blue planet, putting our faith and the entirety of our support into the brilliant minds here at Caltech — the real superheroes whose work will help save our world," Resnick said. "We are grateful for the impact you are having and the impact you will have for years to come. To everyone here, thank you for standing with us."


Designed by Architect Mehrdad Yazdani of the Yazdani Studio of CannonDesign, the Resnick building will replaces the now-demolished Clifford S. and Ruth A. Mead Memorial Undergraduate Chemistry Laboratory, which was home to Caltech's undergraduate chemistry labs for 40 years.

Unlike the vast majority of Caltech research facilities, though, Yazdani said after Wednesday's groundbreaking the new building will not house individual faculty members and their labs.

Instead, it will provide equipment, space and resources divided among several research centers that will allow innovative studies in the fields of solar science, climate science, energy, biofuels and other prominent environmental impacts, according to school leaders. The center will hopefully help solve the most pressing challenges in water, energy, food, and waste in a world confronting rapid climate change.

And since all Caltech first-year students must take an introductory chemistry lab course, Resnick Sustainability Institute Director Jonas Peters said, "every future Caltech undergraduate will matriculate through this remarkable new hybrid research and educational center."

This enables courses to cross the traditional boundaries of the disciplines, according to Peters, who detailed how a chemistry class can head into the San Gabriel Mountains to collect soil samples and bring them back to the lab for analysis using the microscopes common in biology and geology classes.

The technological innovations, according to Caltech President Thomas Rosenbaum, "will help us address the most pressing problem that our children and grandchildren will face over the coming decades."

Rosenbaum added: "This building will amplify the creativity and energy of young scholars as they dedicate their efforts to understanding the fundamental workings of nature and to translate that understanding into action."

Gordo echoed the sentiment as he described Pasadena as "the center of the universe," thanks in large part to the cutting edge technology of its institutions. The mayor commended the college for studying galaxies while the nearby Jet Propulsion Lab, which is managed by Caltech for NASA, explores them.

"Every time I turn around, Caltech isn't hitting it out of the park, Caltech is hitting it out of the universe," Gordo said. "And it really is an incredible achievement on the part of the Caltech community."

As are the contributions of the Resnicks, whose donation helps make the work of the future possible today, Gordo said. "And I'll tell you that the Resnick Center, once completed, is going to serve a great, great role in solving all of (the world's) issues."

©2022 The Whittier Daily News, Calif. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.