Carnegie Mellon Gets $150M Grant for Science and Robotics

The largest grant ever given by the Richard King Mellon Foundation will be split between a new science building at the university, a robotics center in an old steel mill and a new manufacturing-focused institute.

Spurred by the largest single grant ever given by the Richard King Mellon Foundation, Carnegie Mellon University is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a cutting-edge science building on its Pittsburgh campus and a robotics center in the city’s burgeoning Hazelwood Green district.

According to a news release last week, the foundation has approved a $150 million grant, of which half will go toward a $210 million science building on Forbes Avenue, $45 million will go toward a $100 million Robotics Innovation Center at Hazelwood Green and $30 million will create a sustainable endowment for the Manufacturing Futures Institute, which will support the development of new materials and equipment as well as entrepreneurs and partnerships.

As part of a decade-long initiative to modernize the university’s science programs through automation, machine learning and interdisciplinary collaboration, the new science building will include advanced classrooms and research labs designed to be shared. Simultaneously, the university is investing $40 million in one of the nation’s first academic “cloud laboratories,” to be outfitted with automated, remote-controlled robotic instruments for experiments and data collection.

The news release said the Robotics Innovation Center in Hazelwood Green will build upon the university’s prior investments in the former steel mill site, which is now a long-term economic development project from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, the Heinz Endowments and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. The site currently houses Carnegie Mellon's Manufacturing Futures Initiative and the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute, a private-public partnership focused on improving manufacturing technologies.

The final, $30 million piece of the philanthropic announcement will expand the Manufacturing Futures Initiative into the Manufacturing Futures Institute. Intended to be a permanent organization, the institute will develop state-of-the-art manufacturing materials, equipment and processes, as well as support entrepreneurs, increase workforce training and accommodate collaboration between researchers, industry and government. The news release said MFI will partner not only with large manufacturing corporations but also smaller regional businesses.

"Pittsburgh's future — and the future of U.S. innovation and global competitiveness — are inextricably linked to scientific and technological advances, and how well organizations, communities and industries can stay ahead of the rapid pace of change,” CMU President Farnam Jahanian said in a statement. “Carnegie Mellon is positioned at the forefront of science and innovation's great promise, and this visionary grant will fuel the research and activities that will build this exciting future."

Sam Reiman, director of the Richard King Mellon Foundation, said in a public statement that the collective investment should help Pittsburgh reclaim its position as a national leader in key industries.

"The Hazelwood community has been waiting for more than 18 years, since the J&L mill closed, for the site to become a source of jobs once again. And this past year reinforced the importance of local manufacturing to a healthy region,” Reiman said. “This historic investment is the first of many steps to achieve our vision of making Pittsburgh a global leader in advanced and additive manufacturing, robotics, and the creation of technology jobs that are accessible to the entire community."