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More Construction Projects Propel UTEP’s Research Opportunities

Engineering Annex
Engineering Annex
The University of Texas at El Paso launched another $22 million construction salvo this month with projects expected to have far-reaching impact on University research and the students’ quality of life.

The money is divided among four jobs in or near the College of Engineering Building on Hawthorne Street. The additions, which took about a year to design, are expected to be completed by February 2011.

The projects include the Biomedical Engineering and Bioinformatics Annex, the Research and Academic Data Center, the W.M. Keck Center for 3-D Innovation expansion and the Center for Space Exploration Technology Research Propulsion Lab.

The W.M. Keck Center for 3-D Innovation will double its area to about 12,000 square feet on the first floor of the Engineering Building. The design is in its final stages, said Ryan Wicker, Ph.D., professor of mechanical engineering and center director.

He said the new multidisciplinary lab—tentatively called the Structural and Printed Emerging-technologies Center (SPEC)—will showcase future generations of electronic devices that produce rapid manufacturing opportunities. It will include labs for optics, lasers, metrology and electronics.

“This is revolutionary, not evolutionary,” Wicker said. “Evolution is too slow.”

The Research and Academic Data Center will move from its current location in the basement of Union Building West, which reached its capacity, said Luis Hernandez, director of enterprise computing.

The center houses the University’s high-performance computing equipment that research faculty members need to perform high-capacity computing. The additional space will allow for more research computing equipment, he said.

The center will be in a one-story “saddle” built on top of the existing sky bridge connecting the classroom and engineering buildings, Hernandez said.

The Center for Space Exploration and Technology Research Propulsion Lab will grow from 3,500 square feet on the first floor of the engineering building to 11,000 square feet on the first and second floors, said Ahsan Choudhuri, Ph.D., associate professor of mechanical engineering and center director. He called the new center an outgrowth of his Combustion and Propulsion Research Lab.

The focus of the research will be rocket propulsion and energy engineering, including clean, alternative fuels.

Choudhuri, seven other faculty members and 45 graduate and undergraduate students will work at the center. “This is going to be a world-class research facility,” he said.

Faculty and students will conduct state-of-the-art research in the wet and dry labs within the 7,000-square-foot Biomedical Engineering and Bioinformatics Annex in the Physical Sciences Building, said Thomas Boland, Ph.D., director of the biomedical engineering program.

Researchers will study biomaterials and tissue engineering, bioinformatics and health care delivery in low resource settings, he added.

Boland said the additional space will allow faculty to expand their research programs as well as attract new faculty to UTEP for the biomedical engineering and bioinformatics programs.

One of the smaller projects is the 3,165-square-foot Engineering Design Studio in the renovated College of Engineering basement. The project should be completed in September 2010.

The goal of the studio is to allow faculty and students to put theory into practice. They will work on complex real-world projects from design through manufacturing. Noe Vargas-Hernandez, Ph.D., assistant professor of mechanical engineering, will be the studio director.

Ed Soltero, UTEP’s director of planning and construction, is excited about the landscaping that will run along Hawthorne Street from the planned Chemistry and Computer Science Building north to the Physical Sciences Building.

“It will be a small oasis on campus,” he said, describing the area that will feature shade trees and colored concrete-pattern walkways. “There will be lots of benches and lots of shading. That’s the beauty of it. We’re very keen on developing public spaces.”

An additional project is the $4.5 million Nanotechnology Fabrication Center, nicknamed “the Clean Room.” It will provide a sterile environment where researchers can work with materials that are so small they cannot be seen with microscopes.

“Electronic materials and devices are very sensitive to dust particles and other impurities. The NanoFab will give us a very clean environment to make (these items),” said David Zubia, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Construction of the 6,876-square-foot center is expected to begin Feb. 10 and be completed in 16 months. It will be managed by the University’s NanoMaterials Integration Laboratory. To this point, NanoMIL researchers have used a smaller “clean” lab in the Geological Sciences Building.

The new construction is on top of the ongoing major campus projects that should be completed in 2011:

  • Swimming and Fitness Center expansion, $32 million, 90,000 square feet, on May 23
  • College of Health Sciences/School of Nursing Building, $60 million, 130,000 square feet, on June 22
  • Chemistry and Computer Science Building, $69.2 million, 140,000 square feet, on Sept. 2