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Eighteen Million Dollar Gift Awarded to Columbia University's
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Gary Comer builds on legacy of support for the sciences

Geochem building
A leadership gift from Gary Comer and the Comer Science and Education Foundation will help replace Lamont-Doherty’s existing geochemistry building (pictured) with a state-of-the-art facility and bring the entire geochemistry student body, faculty and staff under one roof, some of whom have had to rely on temporary structures (visible at right) for several years.

Columbia University announced today an $18 million gift from Gary Comer and the Comer Science and Education Foundation in support of research at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. The gift, which will enable construction of a state-of-the-art geochemistry research building on the Observatory’s 157-acre campus in Palisades, New York, reflects the commitment of Gary Comer, founder of the Lands' End clothing-catalogue company and an avid open ocean sailor, to efforts that deepen understanding of the effect of human activity on the environment. It is one of the largest donations ever received by Lamont-Doherty, a research complex known throughout the world as the home of breakthrough discoveries in scientific understanding of the Earth, from its core to its atmosphere.

Columbia has committed to raising the additional funding needed to complete the new geochemistry facility. The new building will replace the existing geochemistry facility, which dates from the early 1950's and can no longer support the kinds of leading-edge research needed to answer the most pressing questions about Earth and its climate. Groundbreaking is expected to take place in September 2006, with ribbon cutting and occupancy scheduled for November 2007.

"I am proud to be a part of this project," Comer said. "This new facility will support great scientific research in the exploration of some of the crucial questions of the day, ranging from the formation of the Earth itself to the future of our climate. The research that will take place in this new facility will lay the groundwork for even greater understanding of how we live on and with this planet."

On behalf of Columbia University and its Trustees, President Lee Bollinger praised Comer’s foresight and generosity in making this gift to the Observatory. "Gary Comer has made extraordinary commitments to the sciences, particularly in the area of climate change," said Bollinger. "Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty campus continues to be one of the world's leading centers for scientific research and this gift will allow our scientists to remain at the very forefront of discovery."

Initial plans call for a two-story, 63,000 square-foot structure that will bring together Lamont-Doherty's Geochemistry Division currently scattered across the campus. It will house laboratories designed to meet the best practices described in the EPA's Labs21 program as well as provide much-needed support and office space.

"Columbia University needs a state-of-the-art geochemistry facility to remain one of the premier earth and environmental science centers in the world," said G. Michael Purdy, a geophysicist and director of the Observatory. "The current structure has lived long beyond its utility. We look forward to the many new discoveries that will undoubtedly be made possible by Gary’s generosity."

Scientists in the Geochemistry Division work to understand Earth's many complex and interconnected systems by studying the planet's history and the processes that have governed its past and present environment. Samples of air, water, biological remains, rocks and meteorites are studied in order to address a broad range of scientific issues. Geochemists at the Observatory work on a range of projects, from determining the chemical composition and toxicity of pollutants emitted by the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, to revealing clues about past climate changes locked in ice and sediments cores, to identifying the fundamental chemical and physical processes involved in the formation of Earth's mantle and core. Columbia’s geochemists also have contributed greatly to our understanding of the socioeconomic issues associated with the environment, from the causes and remediation of arsenic in the groundwater of Bangladesh to the accumulation of industrial carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Design plans for the new building will take into account environmental as well as aesthetic considerations in order to respect and preserve the beauty of the campus and surrounding area. The University is already working with local community groups to ensure that the building blends in with the terrain at the same time that it supports the mission of the Observatory, which is to protect the planet through knowledge, education and advocacy.

Gary Comer was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, learned competitive sailing at an early age and went on to become a champion helmsman in the International Star Class. In 1963, he founded Lands’ End Yacht stores, Inc. and later developed it into the very successful Lands' End Direct Merchants, known for its innovative approaches to marketing and employee relations. During a 2001 attempt to navigate the Northwest Passage, Mr. Comer was amazed that he was able to cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific without the assistance of an ice breaker. This compelled him to delve further into the field of climate change research by educating himself on global climate and environmental change and by becoming an active partner in scientific discussions on the topic. In 2003, Mr. Comer established a three-year Comer Climate Fellowships program, which provides funding to key scientific investigators around the world.

The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, a member of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, is one of the world's leading research centers examining the planet from its core to its atmosphere, across every continent and every ocean. From global climate change to earthquakes, volcanoes, environmental hazards and beyond, Observatory scientists provide the basic knowledge of Earth systems needed to inform the future health and habitability of our planet.

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is among the world's leading academic centers for the integrated study of Earth, its environment, and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines — earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences — and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through its research training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world's poor.

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