The University of Wyoming will host a ceremonial ribbon-cutting Friday for the Engineering Education and Research Building at 11:30 a.m., with a tour of the building to follow.
Former Gov. Dave Freudenthal is set to speak at the event, as are UW interim President Neil Theobald, UW Board of Trustees Chairman Dave True, College of Engineering and Applied Science Dean Michael Pishko and Tom Botts, who co-chairs Gov. Mark Gordon’s energy and STEM task force.
The opening of UW’s new $105 million building comes as Pishko has announced he plans to step down at the end of this month.
After emailing staff on Tuesday, Pishko told the Casper Star-Tribune he’s “stepping down for health-related reasons.”
“I’ve been running hard for the last 4.5 years and it’s taken its toll,” the Casper newspaper reported the dean as saying.
His tenure as dean culminates with EERB’s opening, which brings a number of new programs to the engineering college.
“Everything is pretty much ready to go, particularly for the education of students” Pishko told the Laramie Boomerang on Tuesday morning. “We’re still setting up one remaining artificial intelligence laboratory on the 4th floor. That’s taking a little longer than we anticipated, but the building was on time and on budget.”
The new building offers two new facilities that should help UW students and others develop products.
The first is the Center for Design Thinking, a two-story suite with a lounge-type feel where engineering students will work with design students to hone in on the aesthetics of a conceptual product.
The center offers a number of workshops on design-thinking, including those open to anyone in Wyoming. A first-year seminar is also offered to students.
Brandon Gellis, who is one of two directors for the center, said that design thinking involves “solving a problem to make a well-designed resource that is also really attractive to people.”
“We are going to be doing an open call this year for student competition groups that want to come up with innovative ideas and potentially participate in larger funding opportunities,” Gellis said.
Students, UW employees and others can then take those ideas developed in the center and bring them to life in the Student Innovation Center, a makerspace on the ground floor with $1.5 million worth of equipment.
“This isn’t just a place for engineers. It’s a place for the whole community,” said Tyler Kerr, who oversees the makerspace.
To use these 3-D printers and other equipment, students need to take the one-hour workshop associated with each piece of equipment.
Kerr’s team already has about 40 of these free workshops scheduled each week. Those workshops are often filling up shortly after they’re posted on UW’s website, Kerr said.
Students earn “merit badges” for taking workshops that allow them to use more equipment.
The Student Innovation Center only charges students for the actual materials that are used — which is about 20 cents per gram for 3-D printing, Kerr said.
The room has 18 individual 3-D printers coming in seven different types.
The center’s 3-D printers can print in ceramic, steel, titanium, plastic, resin, rubber and carbon fiber.
One 3-D printer can print in more than 500,000 different colors, Kerr said.
“You can get truly photorealistic,” he said. “This truly is the Cadillac of 3-D printers. … This is an avenue for students to build something out on the fairly inexpensive plastic 3-D printers and then move over here when they’re ready to pitch to ’Shark Tank.’”
Kerr said the wide array of technology is a credit to “the generosity of Dean Pishko.”
“Any piece of equipment we said we needed — he made sure we got. The exciting thing about 3-D printers is that it can put things in people’s hands that they might not otherwise have access to,” Kerr said. “My background is in paleontology, and it’s kind of hard to pass a super precious, crumbling skull from east Africa around a classroom, but we can 3-D print it and then anyone can have it.”
The makerspace also offers laser-cutting, wood-working and circuitry equipment that Kerr said should give students opportunities they might not otherwise have as students since “RAs might frown on having a table-saw in the dorms.”
Other parts of building are teeming with new technology, including a room with different drill simulators for use by students in petroleum engineering.
The room, which looks more like a high-tech arcade than a classroom, will be used by five different courses and has equipment that simulates both conventional and automated drilling equipment.
Tawfik Elshehabi, a petroleum engineering lecturer who oversees the drill simulators, said he hosted about 500 visitors to the drill simulator room this summer.
“All of them said they wish they could’ve spent more time here,” he said.
The drilling scenarios often recreate a Wyoming landscape, and geophysical conditions created by the software can match the Powder River Basin, Elshehabi said.
The room even includes a virtual reality experience in which the head-set wearer can interact with some of the equipment.
The drill simulators, Elshehabi said, are a good way to expose students to the consequences of a sloppy operation — or ignoring safety warning.
Just as in real life, the virtual rigs can explode if the operator ignores enough flashing lights.
The EERB also includes a new AI and robotics laboratory, truck-driving simulators, a produced water management lab, a hydrocarbons lab, a combustion lab, a virtual reality lab, a fluids lab, a bioengineering lab, and an advanced combustion lab.