A boom in lab space on the Rochester Institute of Technology campus signals the university’s response to a rapidly growing research portfolio.
It is part of a three-pronged strategy to deploy nearly 60,000 square feet of space to make room for innovation, says Ryne Raffaelle, vice president of research at RIT.
Currently under construction, and the third portion of that approach, is the RIT Research Building. Located on the southwest side of campus, it offers more lab space in science, computing and engineering. Spread over two floors totaling 39,200 square feet, the building will be occupied by fall 2024.
“This is an opportunity to further develop the southwest part of campus,” says Tori Budgeon-Baker, associate director of planning and design services at RIT. “It’s an opportunity to really develop the entrance to the Global Village side of campus.”
Budgeon-Baker and Mark Williams, principal project manager with construction services at RIT, began planning for the building last year.
“We build for any kind of research—wet lab, dry, or whatever kind of infrastructure. We have to try to anticipate as best we can using our institutional knowledge to come up with a plan for a building that will be functional,” Williams says. “Once the researchers come in, they will see the lab space, and we can build out for them.”
The first step in building space for research was to transform Brown Hall, which formerly housed RIT’s marketing and communications department, Raffaelle says. Brown Hall now has 14,700 square feet of lab space. Renovations are complete and labs are fully occupied.
“This newly renovated facility is now the new home of the College of Science’s Genomics Center, two laboratories for the College of Science’s School of Chemistry and Materials Science, five labs for Kate Gleason College of Engineering’s computer engineering department, and one for the College of Engineering Technology’s traffic studies laboratory,” Rafaelle says.
The Student Hall for Exploration and Development, a marquee construction project for RIT, also has a role to play. Scheduled to open for the fall semester, it allowed for 23,000 square feet of older classrooms to be reincarnated as 25 labs in existing buildings, Raffaelle says.
The RIT Research Building adds 18 more labs. Several of the labs have already been allocated, specifically five to faculty in the College of Science, three to the Kate Gleason College of Engineering and one to the Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences, RIT says.
The remaining labs will be assigned in the future by Raffaelle, as faculty join RIT.
In addition to the slew of labs, RIT is also expanding and upgrading its user facilities–the Battery Prototyping Center and the Semiconductor and Microsystems Fabrication Laboratory. BPC partners with industry to help hasten the scaling of chemistries and materials when it comes to increasing power and energy density, cycle life and safety. SMFL also works with the semiconductor and microsystems industries with applied solutions.
“These enhancements, which are receiving support both from the federal and state governments, are obviously very timely in light of all the economic development occurring in our region in both the semiconductor and battery spaces,” Raffaelle says.
RIT’s profile has undergone dramatic changes over the last two decades, Raffaelle notes. The university set a record last year, surpassing $92 million in research funds for individual and multidisciplinary proposals. Since fiscal year 2017, the amount had regularly hovered between $75 million and $80 million, officials say. The value of proposals submitted was $265 million in 2022.
“We went from a regional undergraduate teaching-focused institution to a national research university,” he says. “This transformation included the adding 13 new Ph.D. programs and almost tripling the amount of research awards and expenditures during this same period.”
While it is a challenge to create necessary spaces for research and keep up with a growing body of work, the additional lab spaces are a big step in the right direction, Raffaelle says.
“(The added spaces) should provide RIT with the research and lab space to continue its forward momentum now and into the future,” he says.
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].