UTEP Unveils Building, Students Unveil Future

By Jennifer Clampet

UTEP News Service

In the next 10 years, the demand for scientists and engineers is expected to increase at four times the rate of any other occupation. The technology-geared world is calling for more brilliant minds to fill the need.

View more photos from the grand opening of the CCS building

“The demand for scientists and engineers far exceeds the available pool of qualified candidates,” said Paul L. Foster, vice chairman of The University of Texas System Board of Regents, speaking at the grand opening of The University of Texas at El Paso’s Chemistry and Computer Science Building.Dignitaries from UTEP and the UT System cut the ribbon on the new Chemistry and Computer Science Building. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News ServiceDignitaries from UTEP and the UT System cut the ribbon on the new Chemistry and Computer Science Building. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News Service

The state-of-the-art research and teaching building promises to nurture the future of science and engineering students, said UTEP President Diana Natalicio.

The new $69.2 million, 150,186-square-foot building houses two departments – chemistry and computer science – from two colleges – science and engineering.  Computational science – a joint program shared by the Colleges of Science and Engineering established in 2008 – is also located in the building.

“As President Natalicio eloquently stated, this building is much more than a structure, more than a facility,” said University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D.

“It rises up as a powerful symbol of the progress UTEP is making toward becoming a national research university. UTEP is not – and never will be – content with the status quo.”

On the third floor, visitors stopped to stare at posters displaying dizzying arrays of information, abstracts and mathematical formulas.

Anibal Sosa, Ph.D. candidate for computational science, stood by his poster titled “Constrained Optimization for Joint Inversion of Geophysical Datasets.” In simple terms, the application of the research is designed to identify the different structures beneath the earth.

“So when we are doing exploration, we know what we might find,” Sosa said. Using mathematical equations for theory is one thing, he said.

“But it’s really hard to solve real problems, but that’s also the fun part.”

The new building accommodates about 630 students from all three academic units, including 75 doctoral candidates. Of the 19 Ph.D. programs on campus, three will operate out of the facility – one each in chemistry, computer science and computational science.

“We all know that research often results in astounding breakthroughs that address many of the world’s most vexing challenges,” said Wm. Eugene Powell, chairman of The University of Texas System Board of Regents. “But research also transforms the professors and students who engage in it.”

Shreyas Karkhedkar, Ph.D. candidate in computer science, works out of the Interactive Systems Group Lab on the first floor – a lab that supports research on human-computer interaction. His proposal is for a computer program that can use human emotion to predict what a speaker might say next. The hard part is creating a system that works like a human processor.

“We have a map for human emotion in our heads,” Karkhedkar said. “For a program, this entails a mathematical equation for mapping the qualities of speech into emotion. It’s challenging, but at the same time it’s also interesting. You’re melding psychology, mathematics and computer science. It’s the coming together of three fields.”

The Chemistry and Computer Science Building is designed to promote collaboration between chemistry and computer science departments with 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.

UTEP officially broke ground on the new 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.

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

“A successful, globally competitive Texas and U.S. economy is dependent upon universities like UTEP to prepare the next generation of innovators,” Foster said. “I am pleased to report that UTEP is producing those innovators who are even now shaping the future of our society.”