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Published: Friday, 4/16/2004

Odd name, serious mission

BRICKS and mortar do not a university make. But buildings and research facilities certainly do help attract the outstanding students, scientists, and research funding that are critical for nurturing a university's reputation.

That's why the low-key 20th birthday party held Thursday for the Physical Sciences Laboratory Building (PSLB) at Bowling Green State University deserves note.

Opened in 1984, PSLB was the first research facility as such at BGSU. Remember that BGSU historically was a teachers' college. Scientific research in chemistry and other physical sciences began there only in relatively recent years.

The facility was a milestone because it marked a turning point in scientific research for northwest Ohio. Participating in the opening ceremonies were the president of the American Chemical Society and chair of the ACS's Toledo Section. That was Dr. Paul Block, Jr., a chemist and then publisher of this newspaper.

Most of the building now houses chemistry research facilities, including the renowned Center for Photochemical Sciences.

The center's achievements include creation of the world's first PhD program in photochemistry, the study of light interacting with matter. It's a field that underpins commercial products - such as photography, digital imaging, and xerography - that account for billions of dollars in sales every year.

Dr. Douglas C. Neckers, founder and executive director of the center, played a key role in making PSLB a reality. In many ways, Dr. Neckers, who chaired the BGSU chemistry department from 1973 to 1996, was father of that oddly named facility.

He did more than shepherd plans for the building through the university board of trustees. Dr. Neckers attracted the sharp eye of Harold McMaster and Helen McMaster, among the premier philanthropists in northwest Ohio. The McMasters' generosity put key research equipment into the PSLB, and helped propel the photochemistry center to international prominence.

Over the last 20 years, faculty research in the PSLB has brought close to $20 million in research funding into the area. The photochemistry center trained more than 60 PhD students, whose research now is underpinning tomorrow's new commercial products. And it has been responsible for many scientific innovations.

Now, PSLB is a victim of its own success, literally bursting at the seams, with research teams forced to work in remote locations.

Perhaps the time is nearing for Dr. Neckers and others to set their sights on bricks and mortar once again. A bigger and better incarnation of the PSLB can solidify northwest Ohio's status as a center for photochemical research in the 21st century.



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