New interdisciplinary science center planned to house Physics & Astronomy

July 13, 2016 - Sharon Steely

Physics, Astronomy & Interdisciplinary Science Center building site on UNM campus

Construction of a new state-of-the-art high-research center is planned for the main campus at the University of New Mexico. It will house the Department of Physics & Astronomy, which will move from north campus, and other science programs. The new Physics, Astronomy & Interdisciplinary Science Center (PAIS) will be a 137,000 square foot facility which will have upper division class labs; general classrooms and resource areas; and faculty, graduate student and staff offices. The research spaces will include computer, medium intensity (astronomy, subatomic and biological physics), and high intensity (optics and surface physics) labs; as well as limited chemical and radiological materials storage.4 The modern infrastructure will be designed to support projects conducted by a variety of scientists in several different disciplines. The facility will also have a yard for mobile trailer-mounted experimental equipment, large experimental or observation apparatus and heavy deliveries near the labs.9

PAIS building rendering thumbnail

The building is planned for the current site of a decades-old, unused water reservoir which will be demolished and removed on the campus’ southern edge near Yale and Central.

University architect Amy Coburn described the new building, which will face Central Avenue, as “a new public face for the university.” The massive PAIS building will be the largest classroom building on campus and will transform the Central / Yale entrance to UNM. It will also close part of Redondo Drive.1

Currently, the majority of that money is planned to come from bonds, with New Mexicans slated to vote on a General Obligation Bond package this November. If Bond C is approved, the facility could be completed by 2019.

UPDATE: N"New facility will help UNM researchers and students change the world," by Aaron Hilf, UNM Newsroom

Interdisciplinary science research center

Dr. Jeffery Rack, a Professor with the UNM Chemistry Department whose project on optical methods for data storage was recently featured in the UNM Newsroom,3 said PAIS’s focus on interdisciplinary science is the single biggest benefit for his project. Being able to work in close proximity with researchers from different departments, including physics, is something he believes will give his team and UNM an edge. Dr. Rack's research areas are Electronic and Photonic Materials, Inorganic Chemistry and Physical Chemistry.

“PAIS would a great development for this project,” he said. “The facility would house optical physicists who could help me make these measurements better, as well as a variety of other researchers who would add other expertise to this research and many more projects.”

The new building could also have big funding implications for the University, according to Rack. He says many of the funding agencies, including the National Science Foundation, are supporting fewer and fewer single PI (principal investigator) efforts, instead looking at more collaborative group efforts to solve problems.3


The PAIS building is one of several construction projects planned for the next four years at UNM main campus which will total nearly $180 million. In September 2015, the cost of the UNM Bond for the new PAIS building was to be $35 million.2

Location of PAIS building on UNM Campus

Bond Financing:

  • $65,746,710 project cost1
    • $1.45 million - Severance tax bond
    • $37.3 million - UNM bond
    • $27 million - State bond

Albuquerque-based Van H. Gilbert Architects (VHGA) and EYP's Boston-based Science & Technology team have been selected to design the new PAIS facility. Van H. Gilbert, FAIA, will act as Principal-in-Charge for the project. The VHGA firm has completed six projects, including the Centennial Engineering Center,8 for UNM over the last 25 years.

Albuquerque-based Bradbury Stamm Construction has been selected as the Design-Assist Comprehensive Construction Contractor.

Sustainability is always an issue in New Mexico's high desert environment and the new building will be designed and executed as LEED Silver certified.7

Need for the project

Among the necessities for the new facility cited by the UNM Bond Project Outline5 were that the existing Physics & Astronomy building is over 50 years old, undersized for the program and unsuitable for high-end research. The existing building has major heating/cooling issues that impact the ability to conduct temperature-sensitive research, and the location of the building (adjacent to Lomas Blvd.) causes vibrations that impede research involving lasers.6 The new PAIS facility will help to attract and retain talented STEM faculty and students. In addition, research grants mandate updated facilities.5


1 "Face-lifts set across UNM Campus"
When this Albuquerque Journal story was recently shared on the CHTM Facebook page, it reached 288 people, indicating some interest.

2 "UNM to split $100M bond issue over 2 years"

3 "Chemistry professor uses optical methods to change data storage -
Physics, Astronomy & Interdisciplinary Science center could speed project’s growth"

Amy Coburn, University Architect / Director

UNM Construction Services Division Status Reports

5 UNM Bonds Project Outline

6 2015 Institutional Bond page for PAIS

7 UNM selects architects to design Physics & Astronomy Interdisciplinary Science building

8 Centennial Engineering Center

9 Construction Bid Source Archived Project