UCSD opens huge, cathedral-like engineering center aimed at reshaping the human experience


UC San Diego is set to open a massive, cathedral-like engineering center that will exponentially expand the school’s efforts to do everything from transforming plant viruses into human vaccines to programming self-driving cars to navigate safely through heavy fog.

Franklin Antonio Hall, which cost $180 million to build, will feature 13 “collaboratories,” glass-enclosed open spaces intended to maximize the ability of faculty and students from different disciplines to work together, possibly side-by-side with engineers from industry.

The four-story building is named after Qualcomm co-founder Franklin Antonio, a UCSD graduate who supported the school for decades, in part because its researchers were able to help his company become one of world’s largest chipmakers.

Antonio died in May at the age of 69, long after donating $30 million to help develop the nearly 200,000 square foot building, which is now part of the emerging skyline as the ‘UCSD is experiencing unprecedented growth.

Scientists and engineers will begin occupying the building in September, filling the space devoted to chip technology, renewable energy, wearable sensors, health and medicine, robotics, privacy and security. digital security and artificial intelligence.

UC San Diego opens Franklin Antonio Hall, a $180 million high-rise engineering center.

(Bill Wechter/For the San Diego Union-Tribune)

The doors will open when the time is right.

The Jacobs School of Engineering at UCSD needs space. Its enrollment hit a record 9,713 students last fall, nearly 2,400 more than a decade ago.

And many engineering professors work in areas where government and industry are making huge investments in academic research, particularly efforts to produce smaller, cheaper, and more powerful batteries for electric vehicles.

The matter took on added urgency on Aug. 25 when the California Air Resources Board voted to phase out the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035. The move also came as the Biden administration signed legislation that will provide to semiconductor companies more than $52 billion to expand chip manufacturing. The effort will require more research assistance from US universities. And that could benefit chip users like Apple, which says it will have 5,000 workers in San Diego County by 2026. UCSD is trying to build a deeper relationship with Apple.

UC San Diego professor Patrick Mercier (left) discusses ideas with Qualcomm senior executive John Smee at Franklin Antonio Hall.

UC San Diego professor Patrick Mercier (left) discusses ideas with Qualcomm senior executive John Smee at Franklin Antonio Hall.

(Bill Wechter/For the San Diego Union-Tribune)

UCSD – which raised $172.3 million in research funding last year – has also attracted funds to create wearable sensors that produce “actionable” information, such as data that could indicate that a person was about to suffer a heart attack or an epileptic seizure.

Franklin Antonio Hall “is an optimistic vision of a digital future where science and technology are used to help people pursue health and happiness,” said engineering dean Al Pisano, who raised funds public and private to finance the centre.

The building’s laboratories sit beneath two towering atriums that will bathe the interior in sunlight on clear days.

“You can stand down and look up, or stand up and look down, and see half of what’s in the building,” Pisano said.

The design reflects a major shift in how UCSD thinks about bringing people together in the lab.

In the not-too-distant past, UCSD – like many universities – constructed many buildings that largely placed scholars in siled quarters, where they had little space to kibbitz with colleagues let alone to interact with students, including undergraduates, who play a large role in research.

This was a particularly big problem in the UCSD IT building. Most of the time, students could only reach the main computer labs in the basement by going outside, around the back of the building, and down a flight of stairs. The lobby elevators were not always used. And the hall had no stairs to the labs. This limited interaction between professors and students.

UCSD finally solved the problem.

Franklin Antonio, co-founder of Qualcomm

Franklin Antonio, co-founder of Qualcomm

(Courtesy of UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering)

Antonio, who has been very outspoken, made it clear after donating his $30 million that he didn’t like the way undergraduates were treated, telling the Union-Tribune in 2019: ” As UCSD grows, I worry about the undergraduate experience. I see this sea of ​​undergraduates and I can’t imagine them all getting the access to faculty that I would like them to have.

“The interaction between students and faculty is why we have the university. If you didn’t need it, you could all just watch online courses.

The rapid growth of the university has caused related problems.

“Our programs have been spread across five buildings,” said Henrik Christensen, director of UCSD’s Contextual Robotics Institute, which works on self-driving vehicles and robots that will be able to better navigate busy emergency rooms while delivering material.

“But all of that will be consolidated at Antonio Hall. Our industry partners will be able to see everything we do in one place. This is also going to be a big problem for students. We are going to see a collaboration that we have never seen before because they are together.

A spiral staircase is featured near the center of the new Franklin Antonio Hall.

A spiral staircase is featured near the center of the new Franklin Antonio Hall.

(Bill Wechter/For the San Diego Union-Tribune)

The school’s supporters include John Smee, senior vice president of engineering at Qualcomm, one of San Diego’s largest employers.

“Our engineers will be able to drop by and have face-to-face conversations,” he said. “They can come up with ideas that could turn into experiments.”

The topic will be broad.

Nowadays, nano-engineer Nicole Steinmetz takes plant viruses that are harmless to humans, inserts them into black-eyed peas, grows the virus, extracts and modifies it in hopes of creating human vaccines, possibly to treat COVID-19.

Elsewhere in Antonio Hall, electrical and computer engineer Patrick Mercier is focusing on making portable devices more robust and useful, especially when it comes to human health.

“When you go to the doctor, they take your weight, your blood pressure, and then they send you to the lab for a blood test,” Mercier said. “How often does this happen? Once a year? Our bodies are changing faster than this. We need devices that can sample and measure these things in real time to alert us, or our doctors , if something needs special attention.

“It will take more than a group of electrical engineers to solve these problems. We have to work with others,” he added. “That’s the spirit behind what will happen in this building.”

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