Summer/Fall 2020 Feature Pennington Engineering Building opens

FEATURE

Making a world of difference:
the new William N. Pennington Engineering building

Photo by Vance Fox


by CURTIS VICKERS '01 M.A. 

When the coronavirus sent University students, faculty and staff home in March, many members of the Wolf Pack family turned their attention to ways to help in the fight against COVID-19. Support groups and community service activities sprang up throughout northern Nevada, demonstrating a sense of solidarity and proving the strength of the Wolf really is the Pack.

Faculty and staff in the College of Engineering joined the effort. Using 3D printers, they produced personal protective equipment like face masks and shields for distribution to medical personnel in local hospitals and medical facilities; they began work on more efficient tests for the virus; they adapted drones to disinfect hospital rooms and public spaces; and they began research on novel AI-based smart sensors to detect COVID-19 symptoms via telehealth appointments.

Meanwhile, with proper safety precautions in place, construction on the 100,000-square-foot William N. Pennington Engineering building wrapped up this summer. The building promises to help the University continue its mission to serve the community through research that improves lives, while bolstering Nevada’s workforce.

On Aug. 25, Nevada System of Higher Education Regent Carol Del Carlo '72 and President Johnson performed the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new building  with the help of Dean Manos Maragakis and a snake-arm robot. 

Lobby in the William Pennington Engineering Building
Lobby in the William Pennington Engineering Building
View facing North of William Pennington Engineering Building
Lobby in the William Pennington Engineering Building
Lobby in the William Pennington Engineering Building
Ribbon cutting photo by Theresa Danna. Building exterior and interior photos by Vance Fox.
Lobby in the William Pennington Engineering Building

“In its halls, students and faculty alike will perform groundbreaking research, preparing the next generation of engineers and computer scientists for vital careers to propel our economy forward." 

“The opening of the William N. Pennington Engineering building is an important milestone not just for the University but for our entire region,” University President Marc Johnson said. “In its halls, students and faculty alike will perform groundbreaking research, preparing the next generation of engineers and computer scientists for vital careers to propel our economy forward.”

It is fitting that the William N. Pennington Engineering building should open at another critical moment in the history of the state. When Nevada was grappling with the effects of the 2008 Great Recession, a movement to diversify the state’s economy began. Over the coming years, a concerted effort was made to attract a range of businesses to Nevada, and engineering and computer science were key to this effort. As such, the College of Engineering was vital — ensuring new businesses that came to the state would have the local workforce necessary to excel. With a focused recruitment plan, the college gained recognition for excellence, and this year, the results were clear with the college and all of its programs receiving U.S. News & World Report rankings. With enrollment in the college growing rapidly — doubling in the last 10 years — student demand for a Nevada College of Engineering education has pushed the college to its space limits.

With a forward-looking vision, under the leadership of former Governor Brian Sandoval ’86 (English), the 2017 legislature made a $41.5 million commitment to a new engineering building. This financial support was matched by a combination of capital improvement fees and philanthropic support, led by the William N. Pennington Foundation, which provided a lead gift of $10 million. 

“At its heart, our field is about solving problems, and we are grateful to everyone, from Governor Sandoval and the legislators to the donors, who saw the importance of the new engineering building to support our high-impact research,” College of Engineering Dean Manos Maragakis said. “Combined with state-of-the-art curricula and dedicated mentorship from leading faculty, the new laboratories and study spaces will enable our exceptional students to flourish. The William N. Pennington Engineering building unlocks tremendous potential to turn visions of a better, safer world into reality.”


A look inside: unprecedented research and learning opportunities for students and faculty

With dedicated space for all five engineering departments, the William N. Pennington Engineering building is designed to support students of the college at all stages of their education. Students will take classes in the 200-seat classroom on the first floor, with modified class sizes to adhere to current social distancing guidelines. Because engineering disciplines are hands-on, 40 laboratories (both wet and dry) enable students to gain the skills necessary to land internships and, upon graduation, contribute immediately in their first jobs in their fields. Throughout the building’s four stories, 150 graduate workstations provide M.S. and Ph.D. students the space to pursue their goals. And when they need a break, they can grab a bite to eat at the café on the first floor.

A new home for Computer Science & Engineering

The Department of Computer Science & Engineering has found a new home in the William N. Pennington Engineering building, increasing its footprint from 13,000 square feet to 23,000 square feet and uniting labs and researchers from seven different locations under one roof. Pictured here are faculty members Feng Yan, Tin Nguyen, Jim La, Department Chair Eelke Folmer, Christos Papachristos, Engin Arslan and Emily Hand. Photo by Theresa Danna.


The third and fourth floors of the William N. Pennington Engineering building will house the Department of Computer Science & Engineering. The new space will increase the department’s footprint from 13,000 square feet to 23,000 square feet and bring all of its research labs under one roof, thereby facilitating collaboration and allowing the department to continue to develop its growing tradition of excellence. In the past year, the department was ranked 21st in Computer Science Rankings (csrankings.org) for its robotics research while launching a new M.S. in cybersecurity and earning the University the designation as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. With the opening of this new building, students and faculty can continue to pursue advances not only in robotics and cybersecurity but also networking, big data and related fields of study in new computer labs and research spaces, including 25- and 50-seat computer labs on the first floor.


Davidson Foundation ISO Class 5 (Class 100) Cleanroom Facility

Department of Electrical & Biomedical Engineering Associate Professor Jeongwon Park’s research in the Davidson Foundation ISO Class 5 (Class 100) Cleanroom in the new William N. Pennington Engineering building ranges from biomedicine to advanced manufacturing. Supported by a mechanical room with 10 independent air and water systems, the cleanroom is a carefully calibrated and maintained laboratory that reduces air contaminants from an average of between 500,000 and 1,000,000 parts per cubic foot in ordinary indoor spaces down to 100. Photo by Theresa Danna.


Department of Electrical & Biomedical Engineering Associate Professor Jeongwon Park’s research is at the intersection of biomedicine, the “internet of things” and advanced manufacturing. Working at the nanometer level (for scale, the width of a human hair is 150 nanometers), his wide-ranging work includes the creation of nanosensors and devices to help motor skills for those with Parkinson’s disease, improved ultrasound readings for physicians-in-training and highly sensitive sensors for the detection and identification of airborne chemicals and biological agents. As silicon chips reach their limits in power conversion, he is investigating Gallium nitride (GaN) electronics as a greener, more energy-efficient alternative. At every turn, his work is informed by a desire to help people and the environment.

Like many members of the College of Engineering, Park’s ability to advance his research will be significantly enhanced in the new building’s ISO Class 5 (Class 100) Cleanroom. Supported by a mechanical room with 10 independent air and water systems, the cleanroom is a carefully calibrated and maintained laboratory that reduces air contaminants from an average of between 500,000 and 1,000,000 parts  per cubic foot in ordinary indoor spaces down to 100. This degree of air purity is unmatched by publicly available laboratories in the state of Nevada, and it is essential for research like Park’s in biosensing, nanotechnology and advanced manufacturing.

“This cleanroom will allow us to build a state-of-the-art multidisciplinary research laboratory, which will in turn allow the University to emerge as one of the premier world institutes in nano/microelectronics and nanotechnology-enabled research,” Park said. “The cleanroom will allow my research group to fabricate nanoelectronic devices, and conduct fundamental materials research, thereby creating a novel platform for nanotechnology-enabled nanoelectronics and sensors.”

While the cleanroom will help Park and other researchers on campus develop life-enhancing technologies, the laboratory will also play a key role in the diversification of the local economy. Demand for the large-scale development of nano/microdevices is on the rise, and northern Nevada is well-positioned to become a leader in the advanced manufacturing necessary to bring these technologies to market. According to Park, the number of manufacturing jobs in Nevada has already increased by 45.2% from 2010 to 2018, while the national average over the same period was just 9.9%. By comparison, in Reno alone, manufacturing has grown by 104.6%. And expansion in advanced manufacturing is expected to continue over the next decade.

“For the local industry, the cleanroom will serve as a resource for advanced manufacturing for nano/microdevices, sensors, biomedical devices and product prototyping,” Park said. “The cleanroom will enhance collaboration with local industry partners and enable collaborative projects with the University, in turn creating further opportunities for student training including internships at global companies and national labs.”

While most cleanrooms are behind windowless walls and closed doors, visitors will be able to watch researchers in the cleanroom by looking through floor-to-ceiling windows that provide a glimpse into the high-impact experiments conducted in its research bays every day.

Park said, “The cleanroom will spawn new ventures and transfer technology to industry at both the national and international levels, thereby contributing to the University’s development as an innovative, knowledge-based economy.”

“Everyone should have access to clean water”

Lauren Mazurowski
Environmental engineering graduate student Lauren Mazurowski ’19 recently earned a Graduate Research Fellowship Program award from the National Science Foundation for her research designed to increase access to potable water. She will continue her studies in room 345 of the new William N. Pennington Engineering building. Photo by Theresa Danna.

Because the faculty in the College of Engineering provide students with opportunities for experiential learning from day one, students like Lauren Mazurowski ’19 (environmental engineering) are ready to harness engineering principles for the greater good in the new building.

A first-generation graduate student in environmental engineering, Mazurowski has a passion for increasing access to clean water around the world. As graduate president of the Student Association for International Water Issues, she plans annual trips abroad to help communities suffering from limited access to potable water.

Everyone should have access to clean water,” she said. “I want to work internationally and locally to give people that access.”

While pursuing her master’s degree, Mazurowski applied for and received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program grant to continue her studies. The GRFP awards fellows a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 along with a $12,000 education allowance to conduct their own research at any graduate school they choose.

A first-generation graduate student in environmental engineering, Mazurowski has a passion for increasing access to clean water around the world.

“It feels surreal,” Mazurowski said of receiving the award. “Originally, I only had the research funding to finish my master’s degree, then start working in engineering, and I know I would have been happy to do that. But now, getting this award has changed the course of my life. I believe I need to make the most I can with this fellowship, and really work to do something that could help people.”

The GRFP award will support Mazurowski’s research in breaking down recalcitrant water pollutants to make water potable more quickly and more efficiently. To pursue her research, she will use a lab-scale UV reactor in the William N. Pennington Engineering building. The reactor combines O3 (ozone) molecules with ultraviolet, high-energy light and organic molecules to break down impurities like pharmaceuticals and personal care products.

When she is not busy in the lab, Mazurowski volunteers regularly and espouses the belief that the best way to excel is by working hard and being kind. She said, “If you do your work with kindness, a good heart, and for the right reasons, you will be successful.”

The new building extends the College of Engineering’s mission to provide a globally competitive education to every student who wants to make a difference in the world.

Chemical & Materials Engineering Assistant Professor Maryam Raeeszadeh-Sarmazdeh’s lab has students from diverse backgrounds performing interdisciplinary research in biomolecular engineering to solve health, biomedical and energy issues. Pictured here in her Pennington Engineering building lab are B.S.-M.S. biotechnology student Mari Toumaian, pre-med student Imam Sanousi and graduate student Bella Do. Photo by Theresa Danna.


Helping every student succeed

The new building extends the College of Engineering’s mission to provide a globally competitive education to every student who wants to make a difference in the world.

In the hopes of inspiring budding engineers, College of Engineering summer camps introduce elementary and junior high students to engineering concepts, while the MAKE Nevada program provides mentorship to students from Title I high schools, and the Mobile Engineering Education Lab brings grade-appropriate, interactive lessons to classrooms throughout the state.

Everyone in the College of Engineering is united in our common desire to make the world a better place. We are committed to making sure our faculty, staff and students work in an environment that will enable them to achieve their goals.

Once students arrive on campus, they have access to near-peer tutors in the Engineering Tutoring Center and advising from dedicated specialists. To round out students’ academic experience, the college facilitates international exchange programs everywhere from Mexico to Germany and Italy to China. The local chapter of the Society of Women Engineers connects students with industry partners and mentors already in the field. And when the time comes to find internships and jobs, Engineering Career Services hosts semiannual career fairs with industry leaders and offers students one-on-one career advising.

“At every step of the process, we are here for our students,” Dean Maragakis said. “We are committed to the success of all of our students, and as the new building opens, we are also affirming our continued commitment to the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion that are crucial to continued growth and prosperity worldwide.”

Out of a belief that diversity in the engineering profession better serves a diverse society, the College of Engineering recently formed a Diversity and Inclusion Committee to provide staff, faculty and students with trainings, resources and support. Under the leadership of Assistant Professor Kelly Cross, the committee hopes to foster “an inclusive community with open collaboration, equal access and equality for our entire campus community.”

Dean Maragakis added, “Everyone in the College of Engineering is united in our common desire to make the world a better place. We are committed to making sure our faculty, staff and students work in an environment that will enable them to achieve their goals and contribute to the economic development and quality of life throughout the state, country and around the globe. When the doors of the William N. Pennington Engineering building opened, they opened for everyone. No matter your background, no matter your identity, no matter your country of origin — you are welcome here.”