Cynthia Woods Mitchell Garden
Observatories and Telescopes
Cooks Branch Conservancy
George P. Mitchell ’40 Physics Building and George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy
Adding to the world-class stature of Texas A&M University are two state-of-the-art buildings made possible by the foundation established by George P. Mitchell ’40 and his late wife Cynthia Woods Mitchell.
In 2005 the Mitchells pledged $35 million toward the construction of two buildings and commissioned world-renowned architect Michael Graves for their design. Construction began in 2006 and a dedication ceremony in December 2009 officially opened the doors of the L-shaped 6-story George P. Mitchell ’40 Physics Building and the 5-story, elliptical George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy.
A crosswalk joins the two buildings which together offer more than 197,000 square feet of floor space, which includes:
- State-of-the-art research and teaching laboratories
- Faculty, graduate student and staff offices
- Faculty, graduate and undergraduate discussion rooms
- A 468-seat lecture hall which is convertible into three rooms
- A 180-seat auditorium named in honor of our associate, world-renowned Cambridge University theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking
From the Foucault pendulum that hangs 85 feet from the ceiling and Penrose tile that dazzle visitors as they enter the Mitchell Institute to the high-tech classrooms and teaching laboratories in the Mitchell Physics Building, these walls welcome and inspire. They capture the attention of young students who may have never considered a future as a scientist as well as stimulate collaboration and discovery among seasoned physicists and astronomers.
In the spirit of sustainability which is a keystone of The Cynthia & George Mitchell Foundation, the buildings are LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver certified. Their many green features include:
- A revolutionary heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) system that uses natural convection currents in the Mitchell Institute’s six-story atrium
- A cistern that collects and stores condensate and rainfall for irrigation of the building exteriors and the rooftop Cynthia Woods Mitchell Garden
- Orientation and design to maximize heat gain and natural light
- Sustainable and recycled building materials
Stephen W. Hawking Auditorium
World-renowned Cambridge University astrophysicist Stephen Hawking greeted Texas A&M University faculty, students and guests on April 5, 2010, for the formal dedication of the auditorium named in his honor. Hawking was the first of many distinguished faculty and visiting scholars to address audiences in the 182-seat, state-of-the-art auditorium located in the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy.
Stephen Hawking is regarded by many as a leading expert in theoretical physics and rose to international fame with his best-selling book A Brief History of Time and has strong ties to the Mitchell Institute.
Today the Hawking Auditorium is home to international conferences as well as weekly colloquia on topics ranging from the hunt for the Higgs particle to the expansion of the Universe
The Mitchell Institute welcomes individuals and groups who come here to work, study, or visit. We are dedicated to providing an environment that inspires, stimulates, and encourages all to imagine and to participate in breakthrough scientific discoveries. We are especially committed to providing a workplace that is accessible to all regardless of their physical limitations. Both the Mitchell Institute and Mitchell Physics buildings at Texas A&M were designed and constructed in compliance with the Texas Accessibility Standards and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The site and buildings are fully accessible. A tiered garden and sloping walkway, located between the Mitchell and Blocker buildings, provide an accessible route from Ireland Street to the Mitchell complex as well as to the Jack E. Brown Chemical Engineering and Cyclotron Buildings. Architects Michael Graves & Associates made certain that accessible pathways and ramps are visually recognizable and provide access to elevators, bathrooms, offices and classrooms. Please call us at: (979)-845-7778 with questions or special requirements that will make your visit more comfortable.
The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Garden
The Mitchell Physics Building houses a unique 10,000-square-foot sanctuary for butterflies and other insects, and for the humans who come to admire them. The only rooftop garden on campus, the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Garden boasts an abundance of drought-resistant native Texas vines and fragrant floral plants that attract a diverse set of butterfly species.
The garden is supported by a permanent endowment established by George P. Mitchell. This space, along with the building’s other exterior landscapes, are irrigated by a cistern that collects and stores condensate and rainfall.
Laboratories that Reach for the Stars
“Astronomy motivates enthusiasm and interest in science. All human societies have looked to the sky and wondered what was out there, asking questions such as ‘Are we alone?’ or ‘How did the universe happen?”
–Dr. Nicholas B. Suntzeff (Texas A&M University Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy)
The Physics & Astronomy Teaching Observatory at Texas A&M is a premier teaching resource. The facility features a 60-seat classroom, a 16-inch telescope housed under an 18-foot hydraulically operated dome, a robotic observatory with a 20-inch telescope that can be controlled remotely via the Internet, and a student observing deck that supports 16 telescope piers for 8-inch student telescopes used in various astronomy classes. In addition, Texas A&M astronomers are involved in a host of other major international projects from Texas to the Middle East to Antarctica.
- One such collaboration, made possible in part through the generosity of George P. Mitchell and the Mitchell Foundation, is the Giant Magellan TelescopeThe GMT will open a new window to the universe. Set to begin operations at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory in northern Chile in 2019, the telescope will be far larger than any ever built and will allow astronomers to answer questions about the nature of dark matter and dark energy, black holes, planets orbiting other stars in our galaxy, and the evolution stars and galaxies in the earliest phases of the universe
- Mitchell Institute and Texas A&M are also partners in the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment at the McDonald Observatory in West Texas.
- Texas A&M astronomers are also involved with the Dark Energy Survey which is designed to probe the origin of the accelerating universe and help uncover the nature of dark energy by survey a large swath of the southern sky out to vast distances. This collaboration has built an extremely sensitive 570-Megapixel digital camera, DECam, that is mounted on the Blanco 4-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory.
- Texas A&M is part of a team of international consortia working with the Chinese Center for Antarctic Astronomy to construct an institute for astronomy on the highest point of the Antarctic Plateau, known as Dome Argus. It is believed to be an ideal location (next to space) for astronomers to establish an observatory to view the sky in infrared and generate movies of those views. To learn more, visit International Team Installs First of Three Telescopes in Antarctica
Farther Afield: Cook’s Branch Conservancy
Cook’s Branch Conservancy in the Piney Woods region of East Texas offers an inspiring and energizing retreat for scholars, students, and teachers participating in Mitchell Institute programs.
- This once clear-cut land was first purchased by the George and Cynthia Mitchell in 1964, with long-term preservation starting in 1990.
- Cook’s Branch stream meanders its way through 5,600 acres of regenerated habitat. On any given day, visitors can observe the many species of native trees, plants and grasses. They may spot bald eagles soaring overhead. Or, they may witness Eastern Wild Turkeys, sparrows and Bobwhite quail. Some will even be rewarded with a glimpse of the endangered Red-cockaded woodpecker.
- With forests more vulnerable than ever, Cook’s Branch also serves as an important field laboratory for environmentalists concerned with the study of carbon flux, drought, ecosystem transition, biodiversity and much more.
- In 2012, Cook’s Branch received the Leopold Award, Texas’s highest award for habitat management and wildlife conservation on private land. To learn more about the Mitchell family’s restoration efforts at Cook’s Branch, view the 2012 Texas Parks & Wildlife YouTube tribute.