Brand New Campus, Big New Opportunities

Three Deans of UC Merced. Pictured left to right are: Jeff Wright, Dean
of UC Merced; Maria Pallavicini, Dean School of Natural Sciences; and
Kenji Hakuta, Founding Dean of the School of Social Sciences,
Humanities and Arts.
Yosemite National Park is only a 90-minute drive from campus.
UC Merced campus.
Raymond Chiao of the UC Berkeley Physics Department has a joint faculty
appointment at UC Merced's school of Natural Science and Engineering.
Prof. Roland Winston of UC Merced's School of Engineering focuses his research on solar power and renewable energy.

your campus is being built up all around you, just getting to class on
time can be a challenge. "We're pretty much a construction site, so
it's difficult to do normal university business," says Jeff Wright,
dean of UC Merced's School of Engineering.

But it's the
chance to not do business as usual that's already brought 55 new
faculty, 1000 students, and industry partners like Honeywell and United
Technologies to the University of California's 10th campus. Surveying
the bulldozers and hard-hat only areas, they see opportunities to
pioneer new lines of research and redesign the way programs are
structured to motivate interaction between disciplines. Even the new
buildings and the bucolic 2,000 acres they're sitting on double as
"living laboratories" for innovative environmental sensor network and
energy research. With Yosemite National Park just 75 miles away, the
view's not too shabby, either.

If completing a
successful first semester this December weren't enough,  earlier in the
year the CITRIS campus partnered with Stanford and the California
Institute of Technology to establish the Center of Integrated
Nanomechanical Systems (COINS), which will develop microscopic
machines. School of Engineering freshmen enrolled in a brand-new,
Java-based introduction to computing sequence (CSE 20 and 21), which
was designed in close collaboration with UC Berkeley and CITRIS. The
Kolligian library, where most classes are being held is near
completion, with laboratory courses and research taking place
temporarily at Castle Air Force base, just a quick 7-mile shuttle ride

Wright says the School of Engineering will add
nine new faculty to its existing 15 this year and grow at that rate for
the next six years. Each hire brings a research agenda that will help
shape the campus for years to come.

For physicist
Raymond Chiao, it was the prospect of pioneering research in
gravitational radiation that  inspired his departure from UC Berkeley
for a joint faculty position at Merced's nascent Schools of Natural
Science and Engineering this fall.

Physicist and solar
power expert Roland Winston, who arrived at the campus from the
University of Chicago in three years ago, looks forward to having
several acres on which to conduct his research into new panels that
concentrate solar energy. The chance to build an energy institute in
cooperation with a UC-caliber engineering program, something his former
campus lacked, was also appealing. Location factored large in Winston's
decision as well. "California is probably the most enlightened,
advanced state in regards to solar energy, both as a resource and in
terms of policy," he says.

Because it's so new, one
thing UC Merced doesn't have is rigid departmental structures. "We
think departments interfere with cross-disciplinary synergy. At
established campuses it's relatively more difficult to work across
departmental boundaries. So the way we hire faculty is to develop very
strong graduate groups where the faculty are drawn from multiple
Schools," explains Wright.

It's a way of doing work
that United Technologies Research Fellow Mike Sahm believes better
reflects the reality of how teams are formed in research and business
environments. "This is how we work in research and business
environments. We form integrated product teams that include all
disciplines you need from early concept to dealing with the warrantee.
We think this new way of structuring departments will better prepare
students for the real world," says Sahm.

faculty, too, are looking forward to increased departmental freedom.
"You can build programs and structure them to the greatest extent
possible, according to your own vision, which is not possible at a
mature campus," says Winston.

Physical infrastructure,
or lack thereof, is also providing a chance to try something different.
New buildings won't just host classrooms, laboratories, and meeting
areas. They will double as "living laboratories."

Merced's campus will be a test bed, where we'll have state of the art
sensor technology throughout the buildings, so we can monitor things
like building condition, climate, environmental impact, energy
consumption. So it will be a living laboratory both for conducting
research but also for educating students about the environment and
sustainability," explains Wright. “We anticipate this research growing
to a fertile area of growth for CITRIS innovation.”

opportunity for new academic-private sector partnerships leveraging
this model is consistent with the CITRIS mandate and vision. “Our
living laboratory will support academic research and education on one
hand, and on the other, accelerate the rate at which these exciting new
technologies will find markets,” says Wright.

industrial partners agree. "At the research center, we're looking at
the integration of conventional and separate systems, how do you put
these together and make a building center that works better. As UC
Merced's buildings go up, it's a chance to put these new technologies
to use," says Sahm.

But first things first. With the
second semester now underway, there are still faculty to hire,
buildings to construct, and students to instruct. "Our day job is
building a university. Everything else is happening alongside that,"
says Wright.


For more information:

UC Merced's Web Site

Premier Physicist to Create World-Class Renewable Energy Program at UC Merced
(UC Merced News, April 22, 2003)

UC Merced School of Engineering Participates in COINS Nanomechanical Research Center
(UC Merced News, March 29, 2005)