Renovation for collaboration

Posted: February 1, 2022

Modern, comfortable and well-equipped spaces enhance learning, innovation and collaboration. A top college priority in Time and Change: The Ohio State Campaign is to raise $30 million or more to complete the design and construction of the Biomedical and Materials Engineering Complex (BMEC). The story below shows the impact of donor and state support thus far in realizing the first phase of BMEC – the Mars G. Fontana Laboratories.

The Time and Change campaign publicly launched in October 2019, with an overall goal of raising $4.5 billion and engaging 1 million supporters. The College of Engineering has a campaign fundraising goal of $450 million, which includes raising $40 million to support capital projects and improvements.

Two faculty and a graduate student stand outside the renovated Fontana Labs in front of a stone "engineering" sign
(from left) Anup Panindre, Prof. Jen Locke and Prof. Tanya Nocera stand outside Mars G. Fontana Laboratories.

Home of the Departments of Materials Science and Engineering, and Biomedical Engineering, the completely renovated 124,000-square-foot Mars G. Fontana Laboratories on West 19th Avenue is where innovation materializes.

Thanks to generous donors and state investment, this first phase of the Biomedical and Materials Engineering Complex features seven engineering research neighborhoods, 14 teaching laboratories, five classrooms and a 159-seat auditorium.

“What excites me most about the facility is that it’s built upon the premise that interpersonal interactions lead to new ideas and new directions in research and learning, and the new Fontana Labs allows that to occur,” said Materials Science and Engineering Chair Mike Mills.

A two-year renovation project transformed the aging Koffolt and Fontana Lab buildings into modern, efficient spaces for 21st century teaching and research. It also enabled the College of Engineering to move the biomedical engineering academic program from West Campus, and allowed both departments to significantly increase their undergrad and graduate student capacity.

“For undergraduates, the location on central campus is transformative,” said Biomedical Engineering Chair Samir Ghadiali. “The building is so well designed, with attractive spaces that people naturally want to use. That will lead to more conversations and collaborations.”

Senior biomedical engineering major Mallory Moehring enjoys the convenience of being in the heart of The Ohio State University’s science and engineering campus. “Having the building on main campus is definitely a game-changer, especially for new students. It's closer to the other buildings where we have classes, to dining options and to the 18th Avenue Library, where a lot of people work on assignments. With the research labs being there too, it helps you get more hours in and also study more.”

Featuring interior glass walls that showcase the exceptional teaching and research happening within, the building also offers ample study and collaboration spaces.

“It's impressive when you walk in there, you see all this research being done, all the students, the staff,” said third-year biomedical engineering student Shivangi Mohta. “There are a lot of desks and lounge spaces for students to sit down and study, which I really like.”

A professor and undergraduate student work with a 3D printer in the new biomedical engineering design laboratory
Prof. Tanya Nocera works with biomedical engineering major Aneesh Zutshi in the design laboratory.

Fontana Labs’ well-designed and equipped undergraduate learning spaces also enable faculty like Biomedical Engineering Associate Clinical Professor Tanya Nocera to re-envision their courses. Nocera is excited to teach a medical device development course in biomedical engineering’s new design laboratory, which is equipped with prototyping tools and can accommodate 60 students working in teams.

“This space is not something we had before, plus it's set up in a way that's going to encourage student collaboration,” she explained. “We're already redesigning how we're going to offer and structure courses, because we have this new, collaborative workspace.”

Fontana Labs is also amplifying research and interdisciplinary collaboration, especially between engineering and medicine. Beyond the natural collaborations between biomedical engineering and materials science and engineering, the close proximity to other campus collaborators will lead to life-changing material innovations impacting health, transportation, energy and more.

“We now have a more user-friendly lab space where I know the students feel like they can do high-quality work and it allows our measurements to be higher in quality,” said Materials Science and Engineering Assistant Professor Jen Locke. “The quality of our research has increased and I think the general happiness of our students has increased.”

A member of the Fontana Corrosion Center—one of the nation’s oldest and most renowned corrosion research institutes—Locke is excited about the new research opportunities the facility makes possible.

“Corrosion overlaps with biomedical engineering because metals get placed in human bodies all the time,” she said. “I think it's going to be exciting to start talking to people in BME and come up with ideas related to corrosion-related issues in the body.”

Fontana Labs boosts productivity by allowing research groups to share equipment and supplies, as well as ideas, explained recent materials science and engineering PhD graduate Anup Panindre ’21.

A graduate student and professor stand inside a research laboratory.
Prof. Jen Locke (right) and Anup Panindre believe the modern, user-friendly research facilities inside Fontana Labs will help boost productivity and collaboration.

“It’s a great environment to do research in, with modern facilities and technology,” he said. “And it promotes curiosity. If you watch your coworker working across the bench in a nearby hood, it facilitates conversations about what they're trying to understand in their research. It widens horizons and inspires creativity.”

The $59.1 million project was fueled by sizeable investments from the state of Ohio and Ohio State—and from philanthropic support from alumni, corporate and industry partners, and friends of the college.

Leading the fundraising efforts for the project are Matt and Stephanie Magee whose generous gift to support Fontana Labs is recognized through the naming of the Magee Family Plaza, located between Fontana Labs and the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Chemistry building next door. A metallurgical engineering alumnus, Matt also serves on the campaign committee for the Biomedical and Materials Engineering Complex. 

Spanning all four floors of the building, the American Electric Power Foundation Atrium is named in recognition of the American Electric Power Foundation, which made a significant gift to support construction as well as K-12 STEM education and outreach. The American Electric Power Foundation Lecture Series will be hosted in the adjacent 159-seat auditorium. 

“We are committed to educating our young people and providing opportunities for future scientists, engineers and technologists to learn, innovate and make our communities stronger,” said Nicholas K. Akins, AEP chairman, president and CEO, and chairman of the AEP Foundation. “We’re delighted to join Ohio State in a mutual desire to ensure a brighter technological future for us all.” 

Ryan and Angela Arbogast also made a significant gift to support Fontana Labs and name the Robert E. Arbogast Teaching Laboratory, honoring the family’s founding and ownership of prosthetic manufacturer WillowWood Global since 1907. This design lab will host BME capstone and product development courses, as well as the BS/MS program. In addition, WillowWood Global is also supporting a team of five BS/MS students who are focusing on medical product development.

“Ohio State is onto something and we're really excited to be part of it,” said WillowWood Chief Operating Officer Daniel Rubin. “What we think is important is bringing these disciplines together, breaking down walls and trying to foster more cross-functional innovation.”

Not only are the faculty and students who work and study in the new Fontana Labs proud of the new facility, they are touched by the generosity of the donors who helped make it possible.

“It really does make the people inside feel special and like they're doing something that someone appreciates,” said Locke, whose research home is the Robert E. Schafrik Research Laboratory. “When we found out that someone wanted to name our space, I was excited, but I was surprised at how excited my students were. For them, it meant somebody cared.”

Make a gift to support the Biomedical and Materials Engineering Complex.

Named spaces: Donors leave their mark on Fontana Labs

With approval from The Ohio State University Board of Trustees, College of Engineering leadership has named spaces in recognition of generous donors whose support helped realize the Mars G. Fontana Laboratories.

  • The American Electric Power Foundation Atrium - American Electric Power Foundation
  • Charles R. Morin, Jr. Teaching and Research Laboratory - Amy N. Morin Martin, Jason D. Morin, Karen L. Coleman and Kelly L. Beyer 
  • John Ratliff Research Laboratory - John L. Ratliff ’69, PhD 
  • Robert E. Schafrik Research Laboratory - Robert E. Schafrik ’79, PhD      
  • Richard C. Hannon ’50 Teaching Laboratory - Richard C. Hannon Jr. ’74  
  • The Magee Family Plaza – Matthew ’93 and Stephanie ’93 Magee
  • Robert E. Arbogast Teaching Laboratory - Ryan and Angela ’02, ’09 Arbogast     
  • Dave and Margie Williams Auditorium - Friends of Dave and Margie Williams

This article originally appeared in Forward 2020-21, the college’s annual giving report. Read the full issue.