By Amy Brundeen
As experts in their chosen fields, UNT’s researchers are dedicated explorers, going the limits to create discoveries and solutions. Their research often needs specialized equipment and facilities that can be expensive and difficult to obtain and maintain, especially for labs of individual researchers. However, through shared research facilities, researchers can access the latest high-tech equipment and space to carry out the most sophisticated projects and analysis. To help increase collaborations on campus and provide access to these useful facilities, the Division of Research and Innovation is expanding its university-managed core facilities to capitalize on the brainpower and manpower to research, execute and commercialize new ideas.
The core facilities now available for researchers across campus on a fee-for-service basis include the vivarium for animal researchers; the Materials Research Facility offering high-end materials assessment instruments; the Center for Agile and Adaptive Additive Manufacturing; and the new High-Performance Computing services based upon the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) in partnership with the University of Texas at Austin.
This year the division is adding three additional core facilities to UNT – the BioAnalytical Facility, the Genomics Center and the Greenhouse Support Services Facility. They are being moved from their creation and incubation in UNT’s BioDiscovery Institute to now becoming university-wide core facilities available to all UNT researchers.
“All of these facilities have a demonstrated ability to support research across the university,” Mark McLellan, vice president of research and innovation, says. “Additionally, each are allowed to engage in research with outside entities and faculty from other institutions who have grants on campus. And in all cases, these facilities have been through a uniform assessment of their costs by Grants and Contract Administration to establish a reasonable and documented billing structure, with different levels of billing for outside commercial and educational users, versus internal UNT users.”
Intended to serve the entire campus, these state-of-the-art university-managed facilities are valuable and integral to the support of UNT’s research programs and status as a Tier One research university. As such, the university is committed to maintaining the physical facility and machinery and will seek equipment replacements through faculty major grant acquisitions.
The UNT core facilities are under the daily management of Aaron Roberts, associate vice president of research and innovation.
“This move is designed to increase access to facilities for all UNT researchers and supports future development of cross-college and cross-departmental collaboration,” Roberts says. “This is a big step up for us.”
The BioAnalytical Facility, directed by Ana Alonso, associate professor of biological sciences and member of the BioDiscovery Institute, features state-of-the art mass spectrometers with advanced capabilities for separating and quantifying small molecules and macromolecules. The Genomics Center in the Life Sciences Complex, which provides RNA and DNA sequence analysis using the latest technology, will have a faculty director appointed to oversee operations as it transitions to this new structure.
The Greenhouse Support Services Facility includes three major greenhouses, one on the roof of the Life Sciences Complex, a second outside of the Science Research Building (SRB) and a third at Discovery Park that will now be managed under a faculty director for greenhouse support services.
UNT’s recently signed memorandum of understanding with the University of Texas at Austin will provide access to enhanced cyberinfrastructure and also will become valuable resources for UNT researchers supporting the increasing demands of advanced computing in scientific research. UNT’s old Talon3 HPC hardware currently housed at the UNT Denton campus will remain operational only for the remainder of 2021 to allow for current researchers to transition to the new TACC operations.
A new vivarium is under consideration at Discovery Park to replace the current facility and will likely be connected to the Biomedical Engineering Building to take advantage of the hybrid research between biomedical engineering and biological sciences.
Roberts says additional core facilities will be added to this model only as it’s shown they are beneficial to the entire UNT research community and heavily sustainable as a standalone service facility.
“This is just good management of important facilities,” McLellan says. “Comprehensively it creates a wonderful, unified picture of university support for important research facilities that engage researchers on campus and help to garner external sponsored research funding. We are building research facilities for the future.”