Baylor professors moving into BRIC research labs, with businesses coming soon

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Posted: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 1:35 pm, Tue Feb 26, 2013.

Randall Jean has moved his microwave research lab five times in his 10 years teaching at Baylor University.

But his latest digs inside the new Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative are decidedly the most impressive.

“This kind of space is extraordinary,” said Jean, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. “It’s really a blessing.”

The electrical engineering department began moving into the 330,000-square-foot facility this week, the first of several programs that will relocate to the high technology and science park.

Next week, Baylor’s Center for Spatial Research will move into labs on the second floor, along with an Innovative Business Accelerator that will assist companies by using their research to develop and market commercial products.

The Center for Astrophysics, Space Physics, and Engineering Research, or CASPER program, will take up space on the first and third floors of the BRIC. Some of its space science and plasma matter research labs will start moving into the building Jan. 21.

And technology-focused businesses soon could be moving into the facility, as well.

Truell Hyde, Baylor’s vice provost for research, said the university is working on leases with three companies, though he declined to name them.

He said he hopes the companies will move into industry space on the first floor of the BRIC this summer.

“We’ve tried to be very selective about who we choose to come in here, and we’ve set criteria to make sure that we bring in high-tech companies,” Hyde said, adding that the university has fielded inquiries from more than 110 businesses. “We also want there to be synergy, so that the companies gain something from being in proximity to the work that is going on here.”

More than $45 million in Baylor, state and local government and grant funds were invested in transforming the old General Tire plant at U.S. Highway 77 and Orchard Lane into the research park. Baylor and Texas State Technical College will both conduct engineering and science research at the complex.

The electrical engineering department has 13 labs on the second floor of the building, as well as faculty offices and open cubicle areas for graduate students.

Kwang Lee, department chair for the electrical and computer engineering, said the building has room to eventually add five more lab areas during future build-out phases.

“When you have an organized, clean space, you get to do a lot more work,” said Lee, who heads research on power and energy systems and renewable energies.

Also, the building’s structure complements research needs. Lee said the brick-and-concrete building creates a level and sturdy environment for the optical lab, which includes an overhead beam for hanging instruments students use in experiments.

Bruce Byars, director of the Center for Spatial Research, said the areas that will house his labs were designed with extra electrical hookups to power the field instruments students use.

The move to the BRIC also helps increase the ease of cross-disciplinary collaboration.

“Some of our faculty were at TSTC, I was tucked inside Pat Neff Hall, we had collaborators in the science building, some faculty in temporary spaces throughout the campus, and that doesn’t really help (the research),” said Rene Laufer, who heads the CASPER’s space sciences lab.

Parts of the BRIC are still being finished out, including lab space on the second and third floors and conference and meeting areas in different areas of the building. Hyde said he expects faculty members from other science disciplines to continue moving into the facility through August.

But while the move means upgraded work facilities, some of the research may be delayed during the transition. Hyde said it will take at least two weeks to move the CASPER space and plasma research labs to the BRIC, then the equipment will have to be reconfigured before students can resume working on projects.

“Everything will have to be re-calibrated and tested, so to get us data that we believe can be trusted for research, it will take us several months, at a minimum,” Hyde said.

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