USC officially breaks ground on new center

USC hosted the groundbreaking ceremony for the Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience on Thursday.

The building was made possible by a $50 million gift from philanthropist Dr. Gary K. Michelson and marks a significant milestone in support of the university’s fundraising campaign to garner $6 billion in donations by 2018. In the three years since its launch, the campaign has already raised $3.71 billion.

The center will be located in the southwest quadrant of the University Park Campus, home to the majority of USC’s science and engineering buildings, and is scheduled for completion within the next three years.

The new 190,000-square-foot facility will stand four stories high and include state-of-the-art laboratories as well as a nanofabrication facility, a suite of microscopy imaging technology, and the Center for Electron Microscopy and Analysis. The center aims to be a leading hub of science and technology and a cornerstone of collaboration, forming a bridge between the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the Viterbi School of Engineering.

“[Michelson] has a burning passion for how the rate of biomedicine needs to move faster so that we can deliver treatments for diseases that are not yet understood,” Dornsife Dean Steve Kay said following the groundbreaking. “We need a new attitude. We need students to be trained in multiple fields so that students don’t recognize themselves as engineers or physicists or biologists, [but rather that] students recognize themselves as problem solvers.”

Michelson, a retired orthopedic spinal surgeon, has generated more than 955 issued or pending patents worldwide. Michelson did not graduate from USC and was not affiliated with USC prior to making the donation.

“We have all been moved by how quickly Gary Michelson has become a Trojan and an invaluable member of the Trojan Family,” said President C.L. Max Nikias during his speech.

The building will not only draw the best and brightest students and faculty of USC into its laboratories and innovative work spaces, but also serve as a new home to key researchers from across the many fields of science and engineering, including two top scientists from the Scripps Research Institute: biochemist Raymond Stevens and biologist Peter Kuhn.

Stevens’ research focus is on the structure of proteins; he is most famous for his collaboration with Gilead, an American biotechnology company, on research that led to the creation of Tamiflu — a drug that prevents and slows the spread of influenza.

Stevens’ move to USC is actually a homecoming: He received his doctorate at USC under the guidance of Noble Prize-winning chemist George Olah. His former colleague at the Scripps Research Institute, cell biologist and physicist Kuhn, has also made major strides in the field of medical research, having developed an experimental method that can be used to target and analyze cells that break away from tumors. The ability to spot these cells sooner has the potential to detect and treat cancer in its early stages.

“Los Angeles should become to medical research what Silicon Valley is to information and technology,” Dr. Michelson said to the crowd gathered at the ceremony. “We owe it to the world; we owe it to Los Angeles. We need to invest in this.”