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Wetherill Commons - shaping the future of chemistry at Purdue

Shaping the futureEach semester, some 6,000 students attend classes in Wetherill 200 Lecture Hall in the R.B. Wetherill Laboratory of Chemistry.

The building, which was named for local physician and lecturer Dr. Richard Benbridge Wetherill, was constructed in phases between 1928 and 1955 to accommodate a growing department. Over the years, campus has evolved and grown larger and faster than architects of 1928 could have imagined and on April 26, was recognized as a National Historic Chemical Landmark by the American Chemical Society.

Former chemistry department head and Professor of Analytical and Atmospheric Chemistry Paul Shepson has watched as year after year, students lined the halls working and collaborating together. His passion for creating a space for their “great ideas to germinate” grew and he began developing the concept of Wetherill Commons. “Right now, they have nowhere to go other than to sit in the hallways. WetherillThe commons will be a place to expand on discoveries – an area where students, staff and faculty can connect, develop meaningful relationships and incubate ideas formed in the classrooms and labs,” he explains.

“The idea for Weatherill Commons came from the reality that scientific advancement has become a highly interdisciplinary and interactive process,” states Claire Chandler (ChE’82), director of development for the Department of Chemistry. “Our hope is that we can combat the information silos existing today with a free exchange among students, faculty and staff.”

By transforming the main entrance of this historic building, the second floor across from the large lecture hall will showcase multimedia displays showing how Purdue is shaping the future through chemistry, while providing an informal learning and interactive environment conducive to creative thinking and collaborative problem solving.

Not only is the commons bringing together people and ideas, but there will also be the Catalyst Café. “The word "catalyst" is very chemistry-oriented and facilitates a reaction, so we feel it is apropos as a name,” explains Chandler. “It will serve as an agent for bringing people together over coffee or a snack.”

Because of private donations, construction on Weatherill Commons will begin in the spring or summer of 2014.

Purdue celebrated its first graduating class in 1875 with a single graduate in chemistry. The growth to the department over the years has been astonishing and Purdue will continue “shaping the future through chemistry” as the concept of Wetherill Commons starts to become a reality.