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New School of Computing and Engineering Building Is Near Completion

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The Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise and Research Center is set to open in August

For many of us, it’s been a while since we’ve last set foot on campus, but while we’ve been out, essential work is still happening to enhance the research and learning experiences of our faculty, staff and students. Among the many things we are excited about in August besides welcoming our Roos back to campus, is the opening of the Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise and Research Center (FERC) – the new research, teaching and innovation laboratory facility for the School of Computing and Engineering, as well as the entire campus. Here’s what to expect when the FERC opens:

Key features:

  • Renewable energy roof deck and laboratory with views of the Kansas City skyline
  • High-tech student collaboration, maker and 3-D printing spaces
  • Two-story motion-capture lab used for drone testing
  • Fully equipped, dedicated workspace for student teams such as the Baja Racing, Steel Bridge Human Powered Vehicle, and Robotics teams
  • An ISO 6 and 7 cleanroom that will house dust sensitive equipment for research from biomedical applications to nano-electronics
Kansas City skyline view from
Kansas City skyline view from the renewable energy rooftop deck.

The renewable-energy rooftop is where researchers will explore new material for capturing solar energy, new equipment for storing energy and new means of generating power. Renewable energy research is multidisciplinary, requiring researchers from engineering, physics and environmental sciences to improve new energy technologies.

“One of the biggest challenges in renewable energy today is that solar panels have to be fairly large to collect enough sunlight to produce a significant amount of electricity; if our researchers can develop a new generation of solar capturing materials, the panels could be reduced in size and used in a larger array of markets. The second major problem is energy storage; you can’t store enough energy for a long enough period of time to make renewable energy cost-effective.,” said Dean Kevin Truman. “You can put it back into the grid if you produce more than you’re using but you can’t use it for yourself. Whoever comes up with the best batteries to store energy right now is going to be a winner in technology.”

The much-anticipated Free Enterprise Center (FEC), located on the second floor, is where makers and innovators can turn their ideas into reality; this will further expand the School of Computing and Engineering’s impact on entrepreneurship and technology in the greater Kansas City metro.

3D-printing manufacturer, Stratasys, noted that the maker space, located within the FEC, will be among the top five 3D printing facilities compared to other educational institutions in the nation. With over $1.1 million worth of 3D printing equipment, creators will be allowed to print prototypes using a variety of material from plastic to carbon fibers to titanium. The school will provide training on how to use the equipment. The center also will tout the broadest collection of AR/VR (augmented reality/virtual reality) equipment in Kansas City with over $1.4m in equipment. Its training lab and multi-modal showroom will be available for area businesses to come in and use the technology for everything from job training to practicing surgical methods to reduce the margin of error in common surgical procedures.

Work is still being completed and the FERC will be ready for a July move-in. The building will open officially on the first day of classes.

The Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise and Research Center is the largest privately invested capital project in UMKC history, brought to fruition with the support of dozens of donors. It is expected to attract the best and brightest students and faculty from around the country and the world to learn and work in Kansas City.

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