U of I System sets innovation network priorities at UIC
Plans include new facilities targeting drug, computer science discovery
CHICAGO, Ill. – New research facilities to build on breakthroughs in therapeutic drugs and computer technology at the University of Illinois at Chicago are among top priorities in start-up plans for a new statewide innovation network that the U of I System is developing to accelerate job creation and economic growth, officials announced today.
The new Drug Discovery and Innovation Pavilion and the Computing Design, Research and Learning Center will be built with a portion of the $500 million in state capital funding that was approved last spring to launch the Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) and Illinois Innovation Network (IIN).
Expansion of the UIC Innovation Center, an interdisciplinary incubator that partners with businesses to foster real-world solutions, also is among spending priorities that were outlined today during a campus forum to update faculty and staff on progress toward DPI and IIN.
Amounts will be known once state funding is available. The state is currently working on a bond sale that will provide capital funding to help develop DPI, an innovation center that will be home to leading-edge research, and IIN, a virtually connected network of regional hubs that will share expertise to impact communities across the state. UIC and the system’s universities in Springfield and Urbana-Champaign are inaugural hubs.
“We have made remarkable progress since the innovation network was announced last fall,” U of I President Tim Killeen said. “The funding priorities we have set will pay dividends for our universities and for a new enterprise that promises to lead Illinois to a new era of progress and prosperity.”
The UIC projects, as well as investments planned at hubs in Springfield and Urbana-Champaign, will build on unique strengths at each university that serve the core focuses of DPI and IIN. Their world-class expertise will then be shared to foster education, entrepreneurship and discovery via a virtual network that will bridge the distance between communities.
Core focuses include advances in “big data” and computing technology, from cybersecurity to the internet of things; in healthcare, including new drugs and treatment methods such as telehealth; in food and agriculture breakthroughs to improve nutrition and help feed a growing world; and in environment and water innovations that protect our natural resources and provide for a growing population.
Projects at UIC that are priorities for a portion of state capital funding are:
Drug Discovery and Innovation Pavilion
The project will create a new, 110,000-square-foot classroom and research facility to build on UIC’s leadership in the discovery, development, and commercialization of drugs and pharmaceutical technologies.
UIC’s College of Pharmacy currently ranks fifth in research funding among pharmacy colleges nationwide. Over the last five years, the college’s researchers have submitted 167 U.S. patent applications and have had 32 patents issued, 108 disclosures, and entered into 44 licenses and options.
The proposed five-story facility will fill a void to expand the college’s success, providing the university’s first building to bring together researchers, students and industry to pursue new, innovative therapeutics.
Computing Design, Research and Learning Center
The project calls for a 145,000-square-foot facility to expand education and research programs for a growing Department of Computer Science at UIC that is already a leader in critical fields such as cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and data mining, and virtual reality.
The new, five-story building will provide state-of-the-art classrooms and research labs for a department with about $45 million in active research grants that has seen undergraduate enrollment grow by 380 percent and graduate enrollment by 130 percent over the last decade.
The department is home to one of the nation’s largest research groups devoted to computer security, and UIC’s Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) is an internationally renowned interdisciplinary research laboratory that has developed high-performance visualization, virtual reality, and collaboration systems. EVL’s CAVE2 hybrid virtual reality environment was employed by NASA to enable environmentally non-disturbing under-ice robotic exploration in the Antarctic.
UIC Innovation Center
The project will expand UIC’s Innovation Center, an incubator that mirrors the confluence of education, research and industry that is the model for DPI and IIN.
This year alone, the center has brought together about 250 students and 25 faculty from a cross section of UIC colleges who work with corporate partners including Caterpillar Inc. and OSF Healthcare on real-world solutions. Earlier this year, the center launched DPI’s first academic program in partnership with OSF.
The project will expand the center by half, from 10,000 square feet to 15,000, adding classroom and lab space by accommodate more collaboration with industry by UIC and by DPI/IIN.
During the forum, Killeen also introduced William H. Sanders, who was appointed last week as interim director of DPI. Sanders, an award-winning educator and researcher, has served as head of Urbana’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering since 2014. He will lead all facets of planning and operations, including planning to build the new downtown Chicago institute, faculty and staff hiring, development of research and educational programs, and forging agreements with corporate and academic partners.
Killeen said the system is making strong progress in those areas, and announcements are expected later this year.
Plans for DPI and IIN were announced in October by Gov. Bruce Rauner, whose vision of a university-based initiative to drive economic development predated his term as governor.
“With U of I System in the lead, we can create a Cal Tech-Stanford/MIT-Harvard style connection between students, faculty, research, enterprise development and investment capital that will power unprecedented economic growth … with one big difference. With all its campuses, partnerships and, most important, its renowned faculty, the U of I initiative can far surpass the output of Silicon Valley and I-5,” Rauner said.
Work is currently underway on an implementation plan that will establish a timetable for opening and other details of the enterprise, where world-class researchers will work side-by-side with students and businesses to foster next-generation innovation and workforce development.
DPI will be developed on a donated site along the Chicago River, and will bring together top faculty in agriculture, healthcare, computing, environment, and other critical fields from the U of I System and partner universities that already include the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and Tel Aviv University. New researchers also will be added and together they will connect with hundreds of businesses and thousands of students over time, as well as with entrepreneurs and venture capital firms.
Their research and educational collaborations will address real-world challenges, promoting the kind of breakthrough discoveries that create new products and companies. Those innovations will fuel economic growth, while also providing hands-on experiences for students and nurturing a skilled workforce for the city and state.
The institute will be the centerpiece of IIN, a virtually connected statewide enterprise allowing DPI staff to work with university and business partners in other regions across the state on research and education initiatives that help launch new companies and lift communities.
The University of Illinois System is a world leader in research and discovery, and the largest educational institution in the state with more than 83,000 students, nearly 25,000 faculty and staff, and universities in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield. The U of I System awards more than 22,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees annually.