Bioengineering and chemical engineering building at Stanford named for gifts from Ram and Vijay Shriram

$61 million in support from university trustee and his wife names the Shriram Center for Bioengineering & Chemical Engineering and endows the departmental chair.

Joel Simon Vijay and Ram Shriram

Stanford University trustee Ram Shriram, right, and his wife, Vijay, have donated $61 million for the new Shriram Center for Bioengineering & Chemical Engineering and an endowed departmental chair.

Stanford University will name a new home for bioengineering and chemical engineering in recognition of gifts from university trustee Kavitark "Ram" Shriram and his wife, Vidjealatchoumy "Vijay" Shriram. The couple have provided $57 million in support for the new Shriram Center for Bioengineering & Chemical Engineering, the fourth and final building in the university's new Science and Engineering Quad. The Shrirams also will endow the departmental chair in the Department of Bioengineering, bringing their total philanthropic support in this area to $61 million.

Stanford has raised $78 million toward the total cost of the Shriram Center, including significant gifts from several other donors. The first occupants of the Shriram Center are scheduled to move in later this month.

"The Shriram Center will unite innovators in science, engineering and medicine, enabling them to work together more closely and more quickly," said John L. Hennessy, Stanford's president. "We have also put teaching spaces at the very heart of the research facility, ensuring that future generations will be ready to realize the full potential of these fields. We are deeply grateful to Ram and Vijay for sharing our vision, and for the extraordinary generosity that is making the center a reality."

With more than 208,000 square feet of space, the Shriram Center is the largest of the four structures in the Science and Engineering Quad. Both the Department of Bioengineering and the Department of Chemical Engineering, which are currently dispersed in several buildings on campus, will be consolidated at the new facility. The main floor of their shared home is dedicated to teaching spaces for both undergraduate and graduate students. Students, faculty and researchers will benefit from close proximity to the School of Medicine and Stanford hospitals, as well as other engineering departments located within the quadrangle.

"Just as advances in information technology and communications have transformed lives, bioengineering and chemical engineering are now poised to bring about great change," Ram Shriram said. "By forging ties among vital disciplines, the university is positioning engineers and biomedical scientists to make world-changing breakthroughs."

Donor leadership and generosity

Ram Shriram is the founder and managing partner of Sherpalo Ventures LLC, a Menlo Park angel capital fund. He has been a member of Stanford's Board of Trustees since 2009 and currently serves as chair of its committee on online education. 

Vijay Shriram is a member of the advisory council at the Stanford Graduate School of Education and serves on the board of directors of Stanford's public charter school, East Palo Alto Academy. She is a close collaborator on many Stanford projects in early childhood education.

The Shrirams have been longtime supporters of Stanford and dedicated volunteers. In addition to their gifts to bioengineering and chemical engineering at Stanford, they have endowed the Shriram Family Professorship in Science Education and the Shriram Family Fellowship in Science Education, both in the Graduate School of Education, and provided generous support to The Stanford Fund for Undergraduate Education and other annual funds. As the parents of two Stanford graduates, they have served on Stanford's Parents Advisory Board.

"We believe the research and work happening at Stanford will bring great benefit to the world at large," Vijay Shriram said. "Our hope is that our gifts will help the university do just that."

Several other donors provided critical financial support for the building's construction. A gift from Bonnie Uytengsu created the Wilfred Uytengsu Sr. Teaching Center, a state-of-the-art laboratory space named in memory of her husband, Wilfred, a 1950 graduate and an engineer and entrepreneur. Significant gifts also were made by venture capitalist William C. Edwards, a 1950 graduate, and his wife, Barbara; the Fletcher Jones Foundation; and several anonymous donors.

A center for innovation

The Shriram Center's cutting-edge infrastructure will improve upon aging facilities currently occupied by the Department of Chemical Engineering and allow the Department of Bioengineering to expand its new undergraduate degree program.

"Together, bioengineers and chemical engineers will collaborate on problems in human health, environmental sustainability, energy and other fields," said Jim Plummer, dean of the School of Engineering. "The Shriram Center will provide critically needed space and laboratory equipment for these disciplines to pursue the big challenges of this century."

The Department of Bioengineering, cofounded in 2002 as a joint department by the School of Engineering and School of Medicine, combines the tools of engineering with a deep understanding of complex living systems. The first undergraduate student earned a bachelor's degree in bioengineering in 2010; this year, the bioengineering department will confer 32 bachelor's degrees, 22 master's degrees and 17 doctorates.

The Department of Chemical Engineering, with a track record that extends more than 50 years, uses physical, chemical and biological principles to tackle crucial problems. Today, those are conceived around three major themes: the chemistry of life, the chemistry of energy, and the chemistry of the environment.

Bioengineers and chemical engineers have a lot in common, but there are important differences. Bioengineers work in life sciences, inventing applications and technologies, often in conjunction with physicians. Chemical engineers, meanwhile, work at the molecular scale to develop processes with applications not only to medicine, but also to energy and the environment.

"The unique design of the Shriram Center will unleash the potential for bioengineers and chemical engineers to work collaboratively and jointly leverage technology to advance translational discoveries," said Lloyd B. Minor, dean of the School of Medicine. "Stanford is leading the biomedical revolution by mobilizing these areas of science to fuel innovation and improve health around the world."

Interdisciplinary connections

The Shriram Center echoes the design and energy-saving features of the other buildings in the new Science and Engineering Quad: the Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building, nicknamed Y2E2; the Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center; and the James and Anna Marie Spilker Engineering and Applied Sciences Building. Like the three others, the Shriram Center meets the most stringent sustainability standards. Each building uses just half the power – and one-tenth the water – of a traditional structure of comparable size.

The four structures form a quadrangle around a central courtyard to create an 8.2-acre complex, which includes more than 550,000 square feet dedicated to teaching and research. All four buildings are connected below ground. The design of the Shriram Center encourages cooperation and teamwork. Meeting rooms, kitchens, stairways and amenities are all centrally located to encourage chance meetings and interactions. The building's 34 specialized labs are located alongside classrooms and conference and office space. Almost the entire first floor is dedicated to students.

All four buildings were designed by Boora Architects, based in Portland, Ore.

Lisa Lapin, University Communications: (650) 725-8396,