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Saturday, August 8, 2020

Campus

$51M building brings more research, collaboration to campus


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The building will be next to the Engineering Building, pictured above. | Thom Dwyer/ The Cougar

With the opening of the new $51 million Multidisciplinary Research and Engineering Building in November, UH continues toward cementing itself as one of Texas’ top research facilities.

The four-story, 120,000-square-foot building contains laboratories, office space, conference rooms and a state-of-the-art, high-performance computing center called Cactus.

“The building is a collaboration between engineering and the division of research,” said Hanadi Rifai, Cullen College of Engineering’s associate dean for research and facilities. “Cactus will be in the building and there will be faculty who are engaged in computational research where they use high-performance computing.”

In addition to new facilities, the MREB stands out from similar buildings on campus in how it provides opportunities for different disciplines to collaborate.

UH’s Facilities Planning and Construction said that the building will limit investments in multiple, redundant facilities and instead house the core functions in one location.

“The opportunity to be able to work together and interact and write proposals together and do research together is what I think elevates and allows the faculty more opportunities,” Rifai said.

Located between the Michael J. Cemo Hall and the Science and Engineering Complex, the project totaled $51 million — with $5 million from the engineering department, $10 million from alumni donations and the remainder from the University and Division of Research.

According to the Indian-American news portal American Bazaar, two of the floors will bear the names of families who donated to the funding of the project.

The ground floor will be the Mehta Family Engineering Research Center, named after the Mehta family who had four siblings all graduate from the Cullen College of Engineering. The second floor will be the Durga and Sushila Agrawal Floor, whose namesakes are current Board of Regents member Durga Agrawal and his wife.

The building features “plug-and-play” labs that include movable tables and shelves, which allows researchers to design the space needed to fit their project needs.

One of the projects that will be worked on at MREB is a coalition between the chemistry and chemical engineering departments.

“Many of the faculty involved in the Welch Polymer Center will have the ability to collaborate together and be involved in the facilities at MREB, allowing them to write grants together and be able to elevate the research they are doing in that area,” Rifai said.

The new facility will raise the engineering department’s annual research expenditures to $36 million and subsequently promote approximately $612 million worth of economic activity.

The increased funding is expected to lead to UH adding more than 250 new graduate students and hire new faculty. It will also help elevate the Cullen College of Engineering into one of the top programs in the nation.

The building was designed by the SHW Group, a subsidiary of the engineering company Stantec. The project website states that the MREB will feature mutiple labs, a training facility and a server room.

The facility will also have an “open shell space” designed for future growth, with construction continuing into 2017.

The collaborative aspects of multiple disciplines in the MREB are a first for UH and are on-par with facilities on other campuses across Texas.

“We know of many other similar buildings where the focus is on collaborative and multidisciplinary research,” Rifai said. “It’s certainly very competitive with many of the other similar research facilities at other campuses.”

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