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Foundation Magazine


New State-of-the-Art USTAR Facility Officially Opens on University of Utah Campus

April 23, 2012

The new 208,000-square-foot James L. Sorenson Molecular Biotechnology Building--A USTAR Innovation Center officially opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony on April 19, 2012. The opening of the state-of-the-art facility, located on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City, Utah, ushers in a new era of interdisciplinary research at the college.

"This is a day we have long looked forward to with great anticipation," said David W. Pershing, president of the University of Utah. "This is our is our time to make a difference, and this building [will be the centerpiece] in making that happen."

Located strategically between the University of Utah's engineering department and its medical school and hospital, the USTAR facility has been designed to encourage cooperation between researchers. The facility contains wet lab and research computing space, faculty office space, meeting rooms and public areas designed to promote interaction within the scientific community. It is the new home of the Brain Institute, the Nano Institute and Department of Bioengineering and also includes space for USTAR faculty researchers who will be supported by graduate students, post-doctoral students, junior faculty, administrative and laboratory personnel.

A key feature of the building is the state-of-the-art nanofabrication and imaging facility, which includes 18,000 square feet of cleanroom space, a biobay and a 5,300-square-foot microscopy and materials characterization suite. It is poised to become a nationally-renowned nanofabrication center by forming industry, state and university partnerships that promote economic development and create advancements in research.

The new USTAR facility has already played an important role in shaping Utah's economy by creating jobs and opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovators and will continue to have a significant impact in the future. The University of Utah has recruited 33 USTAR faculty members thus far; researchers that have generated nearly $76 million in grants since USTAR's inception, with more than $80 million in research proposals pending. Through the end of 2011, the university has had 146 invention disclosures and patent filings.

"This is the beginning of a new journey, a new opportunity for us," Gov. Gary Herbert said. "This facility will allow us to move even further down the road to economic recovery. This is a significant milestone on the road forward."

Layton Construction Co., Inc. was the construction manager for the project, which broke ground in April 2009. Architects for the facility were Lord, Aeck & Sargent, with Prescott Muir. The building's location--on the former site of a golf course--required infrastructure to be constructed to allow for the university's planned future growth, as this building is the first of many on the USTAR campus. Layton coordinated the completion of a mile of sewer line, constructed 3,500 lineal feet of utility tunnel, built a water line from the nearby Huntsman Cancer Institute and extended power lines from a substation two miles away. The facility includes 33,000 cubic yards of concrete and 6.8 million pounds of reinforcing steel. Because the new USTAR facility includes so many different types of researchers and so many different spaces, Layton approached the construction process with the intent of encouraging cooperation. Layton worked hard to ensure that the process was completed smoothly and that everyone's needs were met in an efficient manner.

In addition to the complexities of the different spaces within the facility, the building was designed to achieve a LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Layton has much experience constructing LEED-certified buildings and drew from that experience to fully understand the requirements and make sure they were met. The facility's sustainable features include large, expansive windows that allow natural light to reach at least 75 percent of the building's occupied spaces and offer sweeping views of the Salt Lake Valley. Other sustainable features include multi-stage evaporative cooling systems that include energy recovery, the construction of vegetated bioswales that will help capture and retain surface runoff to mitigate storm water quality and quantity, the use of high fly ash content concrete and the use of local stone and copper construction materials that were mined within 100 miles of the project site.

"It is a remarkable and stunning workplace," Dinesh Patel, chairman of the USTAR Governing Authority and managing director at vSpring Capital, said. "When you get scientists and engineers from different disciplines all working together in one place, magic happens."

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The Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative was passed in 2006 to facilitate research and technology commercialization in order to strengthen the state's "knowledge economy" and generate high-paying jobs. USTAR supports economic development by providing funding to Utah's research universities to support the creation of fundamental technologies that have the potential of helping Utah's major industries to grow exponentially.