Amidst a shower of cardinal and gold streamers and music from the Trojan Band, USC College christened its flagship life sciences building the Ray R. Irani Hall on Friday, Feb. 9.
The building was dedicated in honor of USC Trustee and alumnus Ray R. Irani, who earned a Ph.D. in chemistry here in 1957.
In remarks at the ceremony, USC President Steven B. Sample praised Irani for his stalwart support of the College and the university and for Irani’s many achievements as a scientist, businessman, leader and dedicated Trojan. Irani is chairman of the board, president and chief executive officer of Occidental Petroleum Corporation.
“Over the past several years, Ray Irani has enhanced the university in many ways through his wise stewardship as a member of the USC Board of Trustees and his loyal support of our schools and programs,” Sample told the audience of approximately 200 university officials, faculty, students, staff and special guests.
“By lending his name to his alma mater, he is sending a strong vote of confidence in the quality of the faculty, students and research programs at USC College, as well as ensuring that our faculty and students will pursue their work in a facility of incomparable quality.
“Thanks to people such as Ray Irani, USC will remain a key player in this golden age of the life and biological sciences.”
At the conclusion of Sample’s remarks, a surprise appearance by USC’s equine mascot Traveler delighted the crowd and underscored the emotional claim USC has on so many of its alumni. As the audience applauded, the band played “Fight On” and many of the well-dressed attendees waived the traditional USC victory salute.
“I’m really overwhelmed,” Irani said before thanking his wife, Ghada, as well as his family and friends for sharing the event with him.
“I have loved USC from the moment I first came here in 1953,” Irani said. “It has been a place of significance in my life and a source of both inspiration and pleasure.
“USC helped launch me onto a successful career in science and business. During my student days here, I was blessed to have dedicated professors who took a personal interest in me.
“At that time, I never imagined I would be standing here today on this great campus with a hall that bears my name. I am truly honored.”
Completed in 2005, the 118,000-square-foot Irani Hall, formerly known as the Molecular and Computational Biology Building, houses faculty and students in the College department of biological sciences. Its resident scientists — including both molecular and computational investigators — bring cutting-edge approaches to the fields of genomics, molecular biology, genetics, bioinformatics, biochemistry and molecular evolution.
President Sample, quipping that there was no horse present when his appointment as president of USC was announced, also took note of the intellectual firepower and potential at work inside the research facility.
“In this building — among our undergraduates, grad students, and post-docs — we may have the next Norm Arnheim, who is unlocking the mysteries of how genes cause disease. Or perhaps this building will produce the next Myron Goodman, who is revealing the workings of enzymes that are vital to protecting our bodies against dangerous diseases,” Sample said.
“Maybe we have the next Mike Waterman, the father of computational biology, who provided the mathematical underpinning that made possible the sequencing of the human genome.”
Irani’s relationship with USC began more than 50 years ago. He was 18 when he arrived in Los Angeles from his home in Lebanon to begin graduate studies in physical chemistry. He found a life-long mentor in the late Professor Arthur Adamson.
Irani’s research has led to scores of scientific advances. He has published more than 50 technical papers and the book Particle Size, and holds more than 150 patents.
In 1973, Irani joined the Olin Corporation, rising to president and chief operating officer. He joined Occidental in 1983, first leading a subsidiary, the Occidental Chemical Corp., before being named chairman and CEO of Occidental Petroleum in 1990.
A university trustee for 15 years, he established the Ray R. Irani, Chairman of Occidental Petroleum, Chair in Chemistry in USC College in 1995. The endowed chair was a crucial factor in recruiting award-winning hydrocarbon chemist Jim Haw to the College faculty.
Irani has received the USC Alumni Association’s highest honor, the Asa V. Call Achievement Award. The USC College chemistry department honored him with its 2003 Distinguished Alumni Award.
Irani also has provided his expertise on the national and international level, having served on the President’s Export Council from 1994–2001, on the Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board from 2002–2006 and currently on the White House-sponsored Task Force for Humanitarian Relief in Lebanon.
Peter Starr, dean of USC College, said that the naming of the building for Irani is an important hallmark for the College’s life sciences enterprise. “It is altogether fitting to see the name of Ray Irani, who embodies the pursuit and achievement of excellence in so many arenas of life, on a building dedicated to the highest level of scientific achievement at the College,” Starr said.