The inventor of Gore-Tex has given the University of Minnesota $10 million to help his alma mater expand a key building on campus and attract more talented science students.
Robert Gore earned his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the university in 1963 and later created the breathable, waterproof fabric that bears his name. His gift will help fund a 40,000-square-foot addition to the Amundson Hall, home of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science.
It will be called the Gore Annex, the university announced Wednesday.
The donation, from Gore and his wife, Jane, brings private funding for the $27.6 million project to $15 million. Last year, Dow Chemical Co. contributed $5 million.
"More than half ... will be put up by private donors," said Prof. Frank Bates, chair of the department. "That's a formula the state ought to be proud of."
Now, the building's labs are "way over-subscribed," he said. The expansion will allow the department to quickly bump up the undergraduate graduating class from 120 to 200 students, Bates said. Enrollment in the materials half of the department has tripled over the past three years.
"This building addition comes just in the nick of time to help us accommodate what is a very important new and exciting field," he said.
Construction is set to begin in early 2013 and be done by mid-2014. A groundbreaking ceremony will be held Friday afternoon. Fellow alumnus and U President Eric Kaler, who earned his Ph.D. in chemical engineering in 1982, will speak. Kaler and Gore share another connection: Kaler was a dean at the University of Delaware, where Gore was once an undergraduate.
Kaler and Bates flew to Delaware in April to speak with Gore about the building.
"Bob's an engineer," Bates said. "He knows how to analyze a technical problem. He understood it. Two weeks later, he sent us a note."
Nolan Meyer, a senior studying chemical engineering, estimates that he spends more than 40 hours a week in Amundson Hall. In the sciences, "facilities are kind of a big deal," he said. "You don't want to be in a leaky, rundown building, especially if you're going to spend the majority of your time in that building."
He expects a new building will draw talented applicants to the program -- and allow the department space to admit more of them. The current space is limiting, he said.
Meyer also appreciates the private donations for the project: "I think that exemplifies support we have from companies, industry and alumni."
Dow Chemical's $5 million gift, announced last year, came "at a point in the dream when $5 million represented the difference between doing it and not doing it," Bates said.
State funding of about $7 million, used for repair and replacement projects, will help upgrade Amundson's existing labs and utilities. For example, the university plans to replace single-pane windows, some of which won't close, on the Washington Avenue side of the building, Bates said. Those windows will overlook the new light-rail station.
This isn't the first time Gore has given to the University of Minnesota, where one of his notebook entries has been memorialized on its Wall of Discovery. In 2002, he put forward the first $1 million toward a $20 million fundraising effort that will pay the salaries of first-year graduate students. The department is celebrating that campaign's completion Saturday.
"Bob's been generous with us for a long time," Bates said. "It's kind of an exciting weekend for us."
Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168 Twitter: @ByJenna