Phase III: The UCD O’Brien Centre for Science


In our Zoom for Thought on February 2nd, 2021, UCD Discovery Director Professor Patricia Maguire spoke to Padraig Dunne, Professor, UCD School of Physics and Academic Lead of Science Phase III, about “Phase III: The UCD O’Brien Centre for Science". In case you missed it, here are our Top Takeaway Thoughts. 


Phase III

Phase III is the culmination of a 20-year project that will see the original science building, opened in 1964, reimagined and refurbished to meet modern demands. The buildings in West and North - which currently house Earth Sciences, Biology, Physics, Maths and Computer Science - will be remodelled. The West building will be widened; North will be gutted, refurbished in its current architectural form and cladded externally. “They will be expanded by 5000 square metres to make the whole centre a 65,000 square metre, modern, Europe-scale enterprise for education and research.” 



The buildings have to last and function well for another fifty or sixty years - “that's the kind of time scale we have to think about”. The West building will most likely be heavily laboratory-focused. The North building will likely comprise offices, classrooms, open spaces and circulation spaces. Individual offices will measure in excess of 9 square metres. Currently one of the most in-demand spaces is a multi-purpose laboratory, so flexibility and adaptability are “key” to the redesign. “We have to build a building that can  adapt to trends and be open to change. We have to be a little bit more flexible and agile and ready to change our practices a bit more quickly.”


Pandemic Considerations

In Phases I and II there were big changes in the laboratory settings and also in the classroom settings with the introduction of ALEs. Phase III will feature very high standard, flexible, forward-looking laboratories. “But I think it's the workplace and the learning spaces where there will be new developments and new growth. I think the fact that we were designing in the middle of a pandemic - designing in the context of new learning and collaboration tools and remote working - is definitely informing us. I'm very grateful that we didn't finish this project in 2020.”



UCD will always maintain strong academic cores, “but they have to be very porous at the edges academically and open to interdisciplinarity”. Spatial location helps that process by giving schools a recognisable home while ensuring that people are not “siloed off”. A key design consideration is allowing people to “mix and mingle and have those serendipitous conversations that arise when you bump into people”. 


Beautiful Spaces

Beautiful spaces work much better than ugly ones. “I think ugly spaces tend to not encourage people to use them. They don't give you that sense of comfort, they don't encourage socialisation - and learning is a social thing.” That beauty “doesn't necessarily have to be expensive”; a view outside to nature is also important.


Remote Socialising

First Year Science students have not been able to attend labs in person because of pandemic restrictions. “The demonstrators, tutors and staff are working hard to give them data to try and write reports”. If remote learning must continue into the future, one way to facilitate socialisation “is to have students go into small breakout rooms in twos and threes and discuss the data and jointly write the reports. They are still not socialising in the classical sense of being in a space together but it's better than being one by one in the rooms connected to a single person”. 



The budget for this project is €90 million, about 25% of which comes from philanthropic donations.  €25 million came from the last round of government capital infrastructure investment - and a similar figure is hoped to be secured in the next round. “The rest will be funded by university borrowing and paid back over the 30-odd years of that loan.” 


This article was brought to you by UCD Institute for Discovery - fuelling interdisciplinary collaborations.


Zoom for Thought Invitation

UCD Discovery is delighted to invite you to join thought leader Padraig DunneProfessor UCD School of Physics, Academic Lead, Science Phase III, on UCD Discovery's Zoom for Thought 15-min chat series on;


Tuesday, February 2nd @ 2 pm GMT 

where he will discuss:

"Phase III: The UCD O’Brien Centre for Science"


Join the UCD Discovery Zoom for Thought chat via zoom -


The event kicks off at 2 pm sharp and finishes at 2.15 pm.



Professor Dunne has over 30 years’ experience in laser-plasma spectroscopy, much of it in soft x-ray absorption spectroscopy to determine atomic structure and dynamics. He has co-authored over 100 refereed publications and a similar number of conference publications. He has been Head of School and Graduate School Director in UCD and is currently Academic Lead on the Science Phase III capital project to complete the O'Brien Centre for Science.