UTEP Unveils State-of-the-Art Research and Teaching Facility

The University of Texas at El Paso unveiled its newest research and teaching facility during the March 2 grand opening of the Chemistry and Computer Science Building.

The $69.2 million state-of-the-art building is the latest of completed construction on the UTEP campus geared toward achievements in research.

“This magnificent facility was years in the making, and its genesis lay in our strong commitment to creating the best possible educational experience for the young people of the Paso del Norte region,” said UTEP President Diana Natalicio. “That commitment is the true foundation of the Chemistry and Computer Science Building.”

The building is also adding to the University’s momentum toward achieving two goals, President Natalicio said. UTEP is nearing the first goal – an annual research-funded expenditure of at least $100 million – as fiscal year 2011 numbers show the University reaching $70 million in research expenditures. The second goal of awarding at least 100 doctoral degrees annually is also within reach, President Natalicio said, as the University awarded 78 doctoral degrees in fiscal year 2011.

Representatives from The University of Texas System who also spoke during the ceremony included Board of Regents Chairman Wm. Eugene Powell and Vice Chairman Paul L. Foster, and UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D.

Also in attendance was Alan Leshner, Ph.D., CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science – the world’s largest multi-disciplinary scientific and engineering society.

The grand opening concluded with a tour of the 150,186-square-foot building which houses two departments – chemistry and computer science – from two colleges – science and engineering. New Chemistry and Computer Science Building. UTEP News ServiceNew Chemistry and Computer Science Building. UTEP News Service

The facility is designed to promote collaboration between the two colleges with department offices and labs spread throughout the building. Each floor also has study niches – or collaborative spaces – designed to promote student and faculty interactions. The spaces have moveable tables and chairs with easy access to power plug-ins for laptops.

The building houses the University’s newest research instrument – a $1.8 million cryo-electron microscope – which will be used by UTEP faculty including Ricardo Bernal, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry, in the facilitation of chaperonin research for cancer-treatment applications.

The third floor houses the lab of Luis Echegoyen, Ph.D., Robert A. Welch Chair of Chemistry at UTEP. Echegoyen is researching controlling fullerenes’ electron-accepting abilities in order to make solar cells more affordable, self-sustaining sources of renewable energy.

“This building moves us another step forward to Tier One (national research) status,” said Anny Morrobel-Sosa, Ph.D., dean of the College of Science at UTEP.

“Research under our departments is being facilitated by the construction of this building. Chemists and other research faculty have access to newer and modern facilities. It all adds to the growing intellectual capacity of the University.”

On the first floor is a computer science immersion space used for full-body, virtual-agent interaction research under David Novick, Ph.D., Mike Loya Distinguished Chair in Engineering and professor of computer science. In the same laboratory suite are rooms used by Nigel Ward, Ph.D., chair of the computer science department, and his students for research on human-computer interactions.

“The new facility is a big boost to our computer science department,” said Richard Schoephoerster, Ph.D., dean of the College of Engineering at UTEP. “It brings the department closer to the rest of the College of Engineering and provides state-of-the-art teaching and research facilities for our students to utilize.”

Computational science – a joint program shared by the Colleges of Science and Engineering established in 2008– is also located in the building with offices and space for three computational science program faculty, the program coordinator and two doctoral students.

“We look forward to collaborating with the computer science and chemistry faculty and students,” said Leticia Velazquez, computational science program director. “And we thank the administration for providing an official office space for the computational science program.” 

UTEP officially broke ground on the building site in March 2009. Funding for the project was provided in part by a $124 million allocation from The University of Texas System Board of Regents to help UTEP boost its research portfolio.

“As UTEP continues our march toward becoming the first national research university with a 21st century student demographic, this building represents a major milestone in our journey,” President Natalicio said. “In these laboratories we will nurture our talented students and faculty and their quest to make the world a better place, whether through chemistry, computer science, computational science or – even all three!”