PAÍS officially opens with virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony

It’s called PAÍS, a Spanish name meaning country or nation. It is a reflection of The University of New Mexico’s commitment to share research and space while recognizing UNM as a Carnegie I research and Hispanic-serving institution (HSI). It’s also UNM’s newest building thanks to the support of voters in the state of New Mexico as well as a host of others who played a part from the initial idea to the groundbreaking and eventual completion last fall.

A formal ceremony to open the Physics & Astronomy and Interdisciplinary Science building, or PAÍS, was scheduled for this past spring, but the COVID-19 pandemic put those plans on ice. Instead, a VIP virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony & tour was held Thursday, Oct. 1 to signal the official opening.

“The opening of our newest building on campus could not have come at a more vital time in our nation’s history, as we grapple with the need to produce clear and accurate science to address the very real needs of our communities,” said UNM President Garnett S. Stokes. “This cannot be done without major collaborative efforts, which is exactly what PAÍS is intended for. The University of New Mexico is designated as a Carnegie R1 research university, and PAÍS will position us to not only produce a greater impact on our academic and research mission but also to provide a broader educational experience for our students.”

One of the most important benefits of the new facility will be its impact on UNM’s student population. For many, the benefits to students are what make a project of this magnitude worthwhile. PAÍS gives undergraduate and graduate students new classrooms and state-of-the-art laboratories in which to learn.

It began as a simple idea, a dream to revolutionize the way research is conducted at UNM: build a facility to house classrooms, offices, and laboratory space for scientists from across campus, and not just from a single department. UNM officials broke ground in March 2018 on the state-of-the-art, 137,000-square-foot facility located at the southeast corner of Yale Mall where an old, dormant water reservoir for the City of Albuquerque once stood for decades. PAÍS is not only the realization of this dream but also the largest investment in science in the state of New Mexico’s history, thanks to a GO bond passed by its residents in 2016.

“The University of New Mexico is designated as a Carnegie R1 research university, and PAÍS will position us to not only produce a greater impact on our academic and research mission but also to provide a broader educational experience for our students.” – UNM President Garnett S. Stokes

As its name implies, the building was designed to support and promote interdisciplinary collaboration and instruction involving many departments across campus in addition to the Physics & Astronomy portion. PAÍS not only changes the face of the UNM campus while providing cutting-edge facilities across the University, but it will also impact the way students and faculty work to solve problems.

“For the Department of Physics & Astronomy, PAÍS provides state-of-the-art facilities that allow it to stay on the international forefront of research — something that was becoming a daunting challenge in their old building,” said Stokes. “This department is on its way toward a bigger, brighter future with a greatly enhanced, worldwide visibility.”

PAÍS all started as a vision beginning with UNM’s Department Physics and Astronomy’s desperate need for a new facility. The old decrepit building housed on North Campus was constructed in 1951. Over the years, the facility expanded and had minor renovations and improvements, but it no longer met the basic needs of researchers and students for the high-caliber research conducted in the Physics & Astronomy department. PAÍS fills that need and more while recognizing that UNM is both a high-powered Research I flagship university and a federally-designated Hispanic-serving institution. UNM is the only institution in the state that can make that claim.

“This is a great day for all of us particularly for the members of the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the interdisciplinary science centers that will occupy this new building,” said Wolfgang Rudolph, former department chair, who along with his predecessor Bernd Basselleck were instrumental and persistent in their diligence to see the to its completion. “It has been a long journey on a road that has taken many turns, and believe me, it was not always clear whether the next turn would bring us closer to this milestone today.

“For the last eight years, I’ve had the privilege to be very closely involved with the planning and design of PAÍS. On behalf of our students, staff, and faculty I would like to express our gratitude for the concerted effort by the UNM leadership to get this project completed. Last but not least, we are grateful to the citizens of New Mexico for approving the bonds that helped fund the building, and to UNM students, who have supported the project from day one. In return, we can promise a world-class education.”

“Needless to say, after spending considerable time and effort pushing for a new building over so many years I’m incredibly happy and satisfied to witness the completion of PAÍS,” added Basselleck. “And being able to actually enjoy my emeritus office there while I’m still alive – wasn’t always sure that would happen! I’m of course also most grateful for UNM’s ultimately very significant support, and the commitment of those substantial institutional bonds. And special kudos to Wolfgang and Arts & Sciences Dean (Mark) Peceny for their extraordinary efforts and dedication during those years of final detailed planning.”

Interdisciplinary Science Co-operative

While the PA in PAÍS stands for Physics & Astronomy, the IS stands for a variety of Interdisciplinary Science centers, all at the forefront of their various fields, who will also have plenty of space to conduct ground-breaking, cutting-edge research with students working closely alongside faculty in a collaborative, hands-on, and interdisciplinary model of education to address questions that in many cases are beyond the reach of any single discipline.

The interdisciplinary approach is a move that represents a model in which many of the top research universities across the country are moving toward. Studies have shown these spaces can help increase conversations among researchers that lead to innovative ideas. Also, many funding agencies are emphasizing interdisciplinary research by requiring it as part of the proposals from grant writers.

“We are incredibly excited to share this new space and this new way of thinking about research and research training with our students, faculty and our extended community and look forward to future collaborations and not only advance UNM’s standing as Research I institution, but make positive impacts on our community as a whole.” – Chris Lippitt, IS Co-op faculty coordinator

There are seven centers and core laboratories comprised of more than 100 professors, graduate students, postdoc fellows, and research scientists representing 25 disciplines and nearly 120 partnerships. Research areas will involve faculty from the Arts & Sciences departments of Anthropology; Biology; Chemistry and Chemical Biology; Earth and Planetary Sciences; and Geography and Environmental Studies; as well as faculty from Engineering and Health Sciences.

“The Interdisciplinary Science Co-operative – otherwise known as the IS Co-op — also shares this new space with Physics and Astronomy,” said Stokes. “As a new initiative for UNM, the Co-op brings together seven Centers and Core Laboratories from a wide range of disciplines to strengthen the research being conducted on our campus.”

An IS Co-op website highlights all the centers and labs including:

“The main thing these centers and labs have in common is their extensive collaborations with individual principal investigators, centers, and labs throughout the country and the world. Because the Co-op is dedicated to fostering these relationships, our space within PAIS was built specifically to bring people together in the pursuit of shared knowledge,” said Chris Lippitt, faculty coordinator for the new initiative affectionately called the Co-op. “We are incredibly excited to share this new space and this new way of thinking about research and research training with our students, faculty and our extended community and look forward to future collaborations and not only advance UNM’s standing as Research I institution, but make positive impacts on our community as a whole.

“PAIS brings together data science, materials science, and really a lot of the most pressing technologies and skills that we’re trying to train students in today. The national labs, the startup community here in New Mexico, all of the fastest-growing sectors of our economy are supported by the education going on in this building,” added Lippitt.

In addition to the various centers, PAÍS also houses Physics & Astronomy Optics Labs, a neutron vault, five classrooms, including two large classrooms, two laboratory classrooms, one large colloquium space, a tutoring area, and a machine shop.

To help support PAÍS and its cutting-edge research, visit Physics & Astronomy and Interdisciplinary Science Support Fund.

Please see related stories detailing the evolution of PAÍS.

Video by Manual Muhuaca, UNM Production

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