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Dr. Stephen Wells, DRI President.
Dr. Stephen Wells, DRI President.

DRI To Build Hydrology Center in Las Vegas

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A center of excellence focusing on water issues and hydrology in Southern Nevada is being developed by the Desert Research Institute (DRI).

Plans for the center that will create industry opportunities through applied research and workforce training were discussed last week at a meeting of the Nevada System of Higher Education Workforce, Research and Economic Development Committee at DRI.

Thanks to Nevada’s new partnership with IBM, it will have top of the line, cloud-based technology.  DRI also plans to move its four-sided virtual reality laboratory, Center for Advanced Visualization, Computation and Modeling, known as CAVE, from Reno to Las Vegas.

The research and economic development committee, comprised of Nevada System of Higher Education regents and university officials, discussed upcoming Knowledge Fund programs throughout the state, as well as other research and development projects.

Desert Research Institute President Stephen Wells said, “In 14 years, never have I seen the governor’s office show so much interest [in research and development].”

The Governor’s Office of Economic Development and Nevada’s Knowledge Fund are both in their infancy, but committee members are hopeful they can re-create the success of the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative, which has led to the creation of more than 200 commercially viable patents for Utah universities.

Much of the committee’s discussion on Thursday centered on developing programs, and changing policies to maximize commercial success.

Wells said grants will be awarded to proposals that will generate early returns.  Additional applied research centers will be built at all higher education sites throughout the state beginning with the University of Nevada, Reno, Wells said.

The center at UNR is intended to increase the university’s testing and diagnostic capabilities and marketing their use to private businesses.

The committee also discussed a new searchable database intended to bring health science researchers together.  They considered changing policies to promote increased earnings like changing regulations regarding entrepreneurial leaves of absence and intellectual properties.  They also considered whether Nevada’s public universities should be able to own businesses the way private institutions do.

Encouraging research and development is good for UNLV’s science and engineering programs, but its academic culture will have to adjust.  A chemistry professor sitting in on the committee meeting expressed the new situation best, “We’re going to have to wear two hats — both as an academic and as a CEO or company’s chief science officer.”

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