UTEP Moves Forward With Proposed Research Building

Last Updated on September 28, 2015 at 10:49 am

Originally published September 25, 2015

By Daniel Perez

UTEP News Service

Seated in the dark Microscope Room within The University of Texas at El Paso’s Systems Neuroscience Lab, graduate student Ken Negishi studied a magnified section of a rat’s prefrontal cortex. Bright fluorescent reds, blues and greens that represented antibody probes of peptides jumped off his computer screen.

Arshad Khan, Ph.D., assistant professor of biological sciences, left, comments on the brain mapping research being done by graduate student Ken Negishi in the Microscope Room of the UTEP System Neuroscience Lab. The project represents the kind of research that may be done in UTEP’s planned Interdisciplinary Research Building. Photo by J.R. Hernandez, UTEP News Service

Negishi, a second year graduate student in biology with a focus on neuroscience, said he hoped his research would help contribute to the creation of a complete connectional map of the brain that pinpoints circuits that control appetite. Such a map could lead to new medications and therapies that would specifically target parts of the brain to treat eating and metabolic disorders. Part of his work, which is being done under the supervision of Arshad Khan, Ph.D., assistant professor of biological sciences, will be enhanced by student peers led by Olac Fuentes, Ph.D., associate professor of computer science.

Such interdisciplinary collaborations will become more common at UTEP after it opens its planned $85 million Interdisciplinary Research Building (IDRB) in fall 2020. The five-story, 150,000-square foot facility will be built on 2.1 acres currently being cleared at the southeast corner of University Avenue and Sun Bowl Drive.

While it is still too early for University leaders to decide what types of research will occur in the planned building, the interdisciplinary research concept earned quick and positive reactions from faculty and students who see it as an opportunity for skilled researchers and talented students to blend their diverse expertise to tackle such subjects as climate science, infectious diseases, neuroscience and artificial intelligence.

“I think collaboration is critical for scientific study in the 21st century,” said Negishi, who earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from UTEP in 2013. He said he hopes to do his doctoral research in the IDRB. “As we advance our research, we rely more on other disciplines.”

The proposed state-of-the-art facility will integrate research, teaching spaces and institutional research support. The University expects it to help recruit and retain top faculty members and their research teams, draw competitive students from undergraduates to doctoral candidates, and enhance UTEP’s research revenue stream.

The project took several large strides this summer after the state legislature approved its funding and The University of Texas System Board of Regents added it to UTEP’s Capital Improvement Plan.

Those decisions set the stage for UTEP officials to begin their search for a project architect and engineer, which they will complete by the end of the year. University leaders expect to start construction in the first quarter of 2017. The IDRB will be built on land formerly occupied by Burges and Barry halls. Burges was torn down this summer and the demolition of Barry is slated for completion in October 2015.

Fuentes, who began his work with Khan last summer, said among his team’s jobs is to create an analysis method to handle the huge amount of data needed to map a brain.

“Collaboration is the way to face today’s big challenges,” Fuentes said.

Khan said today’s great research often is the result of synthetic thinking of multiple disciplines.

“For a long time, science was in an age of reduction,” he said. “Now it’s growing in every field and every effort is becoming more complex. We need more specialists to be able to put their heads together.”

The next few years will be exciting for UTEP as it expands its research capabilities with construction of the IDRB. University President Diana Natalicio said the state’s financial support was positive news for UTEP’s continued growth and service to the community. The building was among the key issues the University submitted for consideration during the 2015 legislative session.

President Natalicio said the IDRB is “extremely important to us to continue our growth and development in research because that is what is creating so many of the excellent opportunities that we offer our students at UTEP.”

The state approved $70 million in Tuition Revenue Bonds. The Regents added $10 million from the Permanent University Fund and the University will supplement that with $5 million in Revenue Financing System bonds.

“The building will provide a unique opportunity to foster interdisciplinary research in our growing areas of strength, while benefiting the quality of UTEP’s undergraduate and graduate students as well as research and academic programs,” said Roberto Osegueda, Ph.D., vice president for research.

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