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OSU chemistry, biochemistry departments could form new bond as unified department

Next year, Ohio State’s departments of chemistry and biochemistry could unite.

If the proposal passes, the departments will join forces in 2012 to form a new department: the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Professor Malcolm Chisholm, chair of the chemistry department, said the merger is part of the university’s plan “to unify people of like minds together.”

Dara Burris, a third-year in biochemistry, said she had heard of the merger but won’t be impacted as she is graduating this spring. However, she thinks it will be a benefit to the university.

“It’ll be interesting to see what combined departments can do together,” she said.

Chisholm said the merger would have a positive impact on research and faculty closeness.

“Joining the two departments will provide a more vibrant research unit and we will be able to attract some of the best students in the country,” Chisholm said. “In unifying the department, we’ll get more interactions between faculty members.”

Chisholm said once the departments join, it will likely have the largest budget in the university, one that is “equivalent to some small colleges.”

He said the cost of the merger is limited.

“It’s cost-neutral, with potentially some savings,” Chisholm said.

However, the merger has not been entirely smooth.

“A significant problem is location,” Chisholm said. “We’ll have to work on that.”

The departments are on opposite sides of the university. Biochemistry is mainly located on South Campus and chemistry is on North Campus.

The addition of a new building in 2014 or 2015 that will house chemists, biochemists and chemical and biomolecular engineers will bring students and faculty closer together, Chisholm said.

Chisholm said the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Chemistry building, or CBEC, will be located where the Johnston, Aviation, Haskett and Boyd buildings are on North Campus. According to Facilities Operations and Development’s website, the total project development for the 225,000-gross-square-foot building is $126 million.

“It should allow for most biochemistry to relocate,” said Mark Foster, professor and interim chairman for biochemistry administration.

Foster said there are also plans to renovate Evans Laboratory. Chisholm said that building would likely need to be demolished.

Eric Bolin, a third-year in biochemistry, wasn’t surprised to hear there would be changes to the Evans Laboratory building.

“That building smells like it’s been used forever,” he said.

Chisholm said the benefit for undergraduate students would be an easier transition for chemistry and biochemistry students to move between majors if they change their minds after beginning a program.

Students could also see a consolidation of classes in the departments, Chisholm said.

“There are some courses that are very similar,” he said. “There will be less overlap.”

Bolin said he has noticed that many of the early chemistry and biochemistry classes teach the same material and thinks the merger will be a positive change for the departments.

“I think it will be good to have a more unified campus,” Bolin said.

Schools such as the University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Arizona, University of Texas at Austin and others, have similar joint chemistry and biochemistry departments.

Foster said the idea of merging the departments at OSU first came in 2008 with an initial study of risk-benefit analysis. The faculty voted on the proposal earlier in the 2010-2011 academic year.

“The votes have been overwhelmingly positive in favor,” Foster said.

Foster said the next step is a period for students, faculty and staff to voice their concerns and responses to the proposed plan.

Chisholm said once the formal processes are complete, the last step will be approval by the University Senate and Board of Trustees.

“When we enter into semesters in 2012, we will be one department,” Chisholm said.

Chisholm said the roughly 43 faculty members in chemistry and 14 in biochemistry will all be retained.


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