Innovation District to bring transformative ideas to life

Posted: April 13, 2021

In February, The Ohio State University announced a $100-million strategic partnership with JobsOhio to accelerate innovation and economic growth on Ohio State’s West Campus.

Innovation District rendering
A rendering of the Innovation District from the corner of Kenny Road and Lane Avenue.

The investment from JobsOhio, the state’s economic development group, will support Ohio State’s new 270-acre Innovation District on West Campus. Together, JobsOhio, Ohio State and Nationwide Children’s Hospital, are committing more than $1 billion to drive talent, research and development to compete for technology, healthcare and research-intensive employers driving the economy of today and tomorrow.

“This strategic partnership with JobsOhio will create new opportunities for our faculty, staff and student researchers and entrepreneurs, further positioning central Ohio as a leader to develop the exciting potential at the interfaces of biomedical and computer science and engineering research,” said Ohio State President Kristina M. Johnson. “In addition, we will work with JobsOhio to grow the STEM talent pool, and educate a new generation of students who will continue to thrive in our growing economy.”

The university’s investment of nearly $650 million will support the building of dedicated facilities for faculty, staff, students, startups, Fortune 500 companies and city leaders to work together, developing innovations and related jobs. The College of Engineering is a pivotal partner.

“By bringing together our outstanding faculty, students, staff, corporate partners, entrepreneurs and investors, and providing an environment that enables them to collaborate and innovate, we will create tremendous potential for new knowledge creation, curiosity-driven discoveries and transformative technologies,” said Grace Wang, executive vice president for research, innovation and knowledge. “The Innovation District will provide a very fertile ground to cultivate that kind of culture and opportunity.”

Under the agreement with JobsOhio, the university has committed to increasing sponsored research in biomedical sciences and engineering.

Ohio State also pledged to increase the number of STEM graduates who are ready for 21st-century jobs by growing STEM programs, particularly health sciences and computer sciences programs to 22,500 graduates over the next 15 years.

The Innovation District’s mixed environment will bring together researchers, faculty and students from across the College of Engineering and university, as well as industry partners to work together, share ideas and develop solutions for complex challenges.

“The convergent research concept is focused on addressing a global societal challenge,” said College of Engineering Associate Dean for Research Dorota Grejner-Brzezinska. “Take climate change—there is a giant challenge there. No single discipline can solve that problem. You have to have multidisciplinarity on your team to essentially dissect the problem and solve it together. This is the new trend, which has proven to be more effective than doing research sequentially.”

The multidisciplinary environment is also key to educating 21st-century engineers, who can “no longer only focus on learning the core of their engineering discipline and be ‘inside the box’ to be a successful professional,” she added.

Rendering of the Interdisciplinary Research Facility
A rendering of the Interdisciplinary Research Facility

One of the Innovation District’s anchor buildings is the Interdisciplinary Research Facility, a five-story, 305,000-square-foot laboratory building already under construction in the space west of Kenny Road and south of Lane Avenue. The College of Engineering has contributed $5 million toward the project, which will provide shared space to enable researchers to collaborate on relevant projects.

One focus of the facility will be engineering cures, treatments and diagnostics for cancer, which will further amplify the convergent efforts underway in the Center for Cancer Engineering. Launched in 2019, the center brings together Ohio State engineers and clinical researchers to discover and develop new ways to diagnose and treat cancer.

Later this year, the university will break ground on the co-located 52,600-square-foot Energy Advancement and Innovation Center. It will house faculty, researchers and students as well as public and private partners who will work together on the next generation of smart energy systems, renewable energy and green mobility solutions. The project is a cornerstone of the university’s public-private partnership with Ohio State Energy (OSEP), which has committed $50 million for the project, including $38.5 million for building design and construction costs.

The Innovation District will also capitalize on the expertise and facilities already located on West Campus, including the College of Engineering’s Center for Automotive Research, Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence, Center for Electron Microscopy and Analysis, and ElectroScience Laboratory.

By widening the talent base of students and collaborators in fields like health and life sciences and computer science engineering, President Johnson believes Ohio State can build on its status as Ohio’s flagship research university and continue to lead in the modern economy.

“We can take on the great challenges in our society—the great challenges in science—the great challenges in engineering, the arts, the humanities, the law and in every other field we encompass, and make a real difference,” Johnson said during her first State of the University address. “We can converge across disciplines, colleges and industries around the most pressing and most interesting problems; become a force for equity, justice and the American dream; educate young leaders more than ready to take over for us in building a better world; and redefine what it means to be a great land-grant university in the 21st century, in service to the common good.”

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