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A Facility that Exemplifies ‘Breaking Through’

September 5, 2017

By Laurie S. Nichols

Much of this issue of UWyo Magazine focuses on the High Bay Research Facility, the university’s new, $68 million, 90,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art structure that firmly establishes the University of Wyoming as one of the world’s leaders in the study of hydrocarbon recovery.

In many ways, this new facility—and the research efforts it houses—exemplify the direction the university has taken with “Breaking Through: 2017-2022,” our strategic plan for the next five years. The plan was adopted in July by the UW Board of Trustees, following a nine-month process that involved extensive public input and campus discussion.

The January edition of UWyo Magazine will explore the strategic plan in more detail, but in this article I’ll use the example of the High Bay Research Facility to touch on some of the key points of “Breaking Through.”

The High Bay and the programs it houses—including the Center of Innovation for Flow Through Porous Media and the Improved Oil Recovery Laboratory—have set the stage for cutting-edge research in an area of importance to a key Wyoming industry. The breakthroughs achieved by Mohammad Piri and other researchers will make it possible to capture oil and gas more efficiently, in Wyoming’s fields and around the world. Eventually, they could help Wyoming’s coal industry through advances in carbon engineering and carbon dioxide sequestration—and make progress in other areas of science and engineering, such as groundwater supplies and medicine delivery.

“Breaking Through” calls for the university to become an even more important contributor to Wyoming’s economy, through both helping the state’s existing industries and stimulating diversification. The High Bay, combined with UW’s Tier-1 Engineering Initiative and Top-Tier Science Initiative—both of which also involve construction of major facilities—will play key roles in achieving these objectives.

The research occurring in the High Bay has great potential to stimulate new company startups. In fact, that is happening already with Professor Piri’s research. Piri Technology is the first spin-off from research conducted in the High Bay, and there certainly will be more. Transferring technology from the research lab to
the business world is a key function of a university, and we aim to step up our game in this area to fulfill our important role in economic development.

The research undertaken in the High Bay will provide great educational opportunities for our students, another key component of “Breaking Through.” Increasing graduate and undergraduate research is part of our plan to enrich student opportunities, which also includes internships, international experiences, leadership and community service.

The High Bay and its programs have attracted graduate students from around the world, as you can read in this edition of UWyo Magazine. Their presence is a positive for UW’s overall student experience. UW aims to prepare our graduates for a competitive global environment, and interactions with students from many countries here on the UW campus is a key ingredient to achieve that objective—as is making it possible for our students to study abroad.

The High Bay and its programs represent significant partnerships with private industry, as evidenced by the financial contributions made by an array of international companies. Public private-partnerships are an important part of our strategic plan ambitions, in our research enterprise as well as other aspects of our land-grant and flagship mission—educational opportunity and service. For example, we intend to grow the number of UW’s endowed faculty positions from 36 to 60, and that will require significant contributions from the private sector—such as the one that created the Thomas and Shelley Botts Endowed Chair in Unconventional Reservoirs, held by Professor Piri, and another that created the Alchemy Sciences Chair in Petroleum Engineering that is still unassigned.

The High Bay is a shared UW resource among the School of Energy Resources, the College of Engineering and Applied Science, and the Department of Geology and Geophysics. Interdisciplinary approaches are vital for the university to achieve the ambitious goals in the strategic plan, and the High Bay is a good example of one of UW’s values outlined in “Breaking Through”: “Knowledge advances through intense and focused study and also in the intersection of ideas and disciplines. UW cultivates the energy of individual and collaborative advances.”

Overall, the High Bay and its programs show how UW can achieve international distinction in other areas as Wyoming’s land-grant and flagship university. That is the spirit of “Breaking Through,” and that is what we will pursue as we implement our strategic plan to lift UW to new levels of achievement.

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