Back to top

A Brief History of the Institute:

In 2001, Steve Tanksley, a distinguished plant geneticist at Cornell, spear-headed a faculty movement called the Cornell Genomics Initiative whose goal was to encourage the University to invest in exploiting genomic data. As a result, in May 2002, the University announced a new program called the New Life Sciences Initiative and appointed a high-profile external advisory committee chaired by Harold Varmus, then the Director of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Institute and former Director of the NIH. The advisory committee met for the first time in the fall of 2002. The centerpiece of the New Life Sciences Initiative was to be the construction of a 250,000 sq. ft. cutting-edge research building initially called the Life Sciences Technology Building, designed by the famous Cornell alum Richard Meier '57.

Former Cornell President Hunter Rawlings and Provost Biddy Martin set up a committee, chaired by Rick Cerione, Professor of Chemistry & Chemical Biology and Molecular Medicine, to make recommendations regarding the new facility. Their final recommendations included the following key components: that the Institute should have twelve faculty, a significant endowment, and be led by a distinguished scientist. They were then charged with finding an appropriate candidate.

Three outstanding scientists were selected to visit Cornell and give seminars. It was decided to offer the position to Scott Emr from UC San Diego. After extensive negotiations, including redesign of the floors in the new building, Scott accepted the position in May, 2006, and arrived with his lab from San Diego in April 2007. In June, Joan and Sandy Weill gave $50M towards the NLSI that was applied to the construction. As a result, the building name was changed to Weill Hall and the Institute was named the Weill Institute for Cell and Molecular Biology.

Scott appointed Tony Bretscher as Associate Director, and together with new Institute Manager, Dianna Marsh, they started searching for new faculty. Five-hundred applications were reviewed, culminating in the recruitment of three energetic and accomplished faculty candidates and a Research Scientist. The Emr and Bretscher labs moved into Weill Hall in June, 2008. In the fall of 2008, Marcus Smolka, Chris Fromme, and Yuxin Mao arrived as Assistant Professors along with Research Assistant Professor, Fenghua Hu.

The Weill Institute was charged with the following four-fold mission:

  • Establish Cornell as a premier university in cell biology research.
  • Stimulate new discoveries that can be translated into medical advances that improve human health.
  • Attract the best students, postdocs and scientists. 
  • Establish an environment that encourages collaboration and the transfer of ideas and technology.

The Institute not only carries out cutting-edge research but also enhances the educational environment at Cornell. In addition to research opportunities for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, the institute organizes symposia, invites sabbatical visiting scientists to come and share their expertise and contribute to graduate and undergraduate courses that help to provide the Cornell community with the latest ideas and technologies

As of 2021, the Weill Institute has 12 faculty, seven in MB&G, and one in each of Plant Sciences, Biomedical Engineering, Computational Biology, Chemistry and Chemical Biology, and Microbiology. There are 150 students, postdocs, and technicians working in Institute labs. The Institute also has an administrative staff of 5 personnel managed by the Director of Administration, Bill Loftus.