On April 21, 2017, more than 200 people gathered for the dedication of Joseph Hernandez Hall, which provides state-of-the-art facilities for general chemistry, organic chemistry, and chemical biology at UF. The two-level atrium was packed with UF Chemistry faculty and students, special guests of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and donors to the building.
David E. Richardson, Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences, served as Master of Ceremonies, describing how the long trajectory of one of UF’s oldest departments led to the development of Joseph Hernandez Hall. The building will provide top-notch equipment and hands-on learning for hundreds of UF undergraduates, as well as graduate, postdoc, and faculty researchers.
Dean Richardson introduced Mori Hosseini, Vice-Chair of UF’s Board of Trustees, to talk about the remarkable stature and amenities of the building. For example, the building contains enough concrete to build a four-foot wide, 15-mile sidewalk and 165 tons of metal — the weight of 400 adult alligators, if you’re counting in Alberts. Hosseini’s lighthearted speech enhanced the excitement of the audience, including Joseph Hernandez’ daughter, Estelle.
Next, the building namesake and UF alumnus, Joe Hernandez, took the stage and explained how his curiosity led to his triple-degree career at UF and his post-graduate enterprises.
Self-described as being “attention deficit,” Hernandez has launched five biotech start-ups that are involved with creating therapies for a number of conditions, including osteoarthritis and ovarian cancer.
President Kent Fuchs was all smiles when he took the podium to describe the significance of Joseph Hernandez Hall to UF as a robust research institution. He gave the “buckyball” sculpture hanging at the atrium entrance as a symbol of the intersection between arts and sciences. Designed by UK artist Tony Stallard, the sculpture depicts the carbon-60 molecule fullerene, weighs 650 pounds, and is made of stainless steel, with a Plexiglas centerpiece.
William “Bill” Dolbier, chair of UF’s Department of Chemistry, noted that the first Master’s and PhD recipients at UF, in 1907 and 1934, respectively, were both chemists. Continuing a brief historical overview of UF Chemistry, he explained that in 2013, the Florida Legislature made its first allocation for the building, and the groundbreaking occurred in October 2014. He also thanked, from UF, Frank Javaheri, project manager; John Flowers, chemistry facilities manager; and the faculty members who designed the labs: Phil Brucat, Tammy Davidson, Steve Bruner, and Aaron Aponick.
Susan Webster, the outgoing student body president, shared her story of how she encountered a man peering into Joseph Hernandez Hall. When she asked him what he thought of it, he told her that he had just accepted an offer to join the PhD program in chemistry, in part due to the “wow factor” of the building. She then described her first meeting of Joe Hernandez and joked that all UF students should aspire to be able to donate $10 million to their alma mater by age 43.