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UMD adds $67M IDEA factory to its innovation ecosystem

Designed to foster technology innovations and advances through collaboration across engineering, the arts, business and science, the A. James Clark School of Engineering’s new 60,000-square-foot building is the university’s only facility funded entirely by private philanthropy. (Submitted photo)

The University of Maryland Tuesday dedicated the new E.A. Fernandez IDEA (Innovate, Design and Engineer for America) Factory, designed to foster technology innovations and advances through collaboration across engineering, the arts, business and science.

The A. James Clark School of Engineering’s new 60,000-square-foot building is the university’s only facility funded entirely by private philanthropy.

Located next to the university’s Jeong H. Kim Engineering Building, the IDEA Factory features key research and student programs and activities including:

  • ALEx Garage: This first-floor space is dedicated to student competition teams such as Terrapin Rockets and Robotics@Maryland, as well as a rapid prototyping lab equipped with 3D printers and other in-demand gear.
  • Alfred Gessow Rotorcraft Center: Lockheed Martin gave $2.5 million to equip the center’s new home on the fourth and fifth floors, where faculty and students will conduct research on rotorcraft aerodynamics, structures and flight mechanics. It also boasts a monorail hoist, a giant, yellow crane-like device that can haul heavy equipment up from the ground.
  • Robotics and Autonomy Laboratory: In this third-floor hub for advancing robotics systems, students can work with Spot, a mobile robot from Boston Dynamics, and an unmanned ground vehicle called Husky from Clearpath Robotics.
  • Quantum Technology Center: Below grade level with a 3.5-foot-thick concrete floor to isolate delicate experiments from environmental interference, this joint center between the Clark School of Engineering and Department of Physics is where students and researchers focus on translating quantum physics into real-world technologies.
  • Startup Shell: Founded in a storage closet in 2012, the popular student business incubator now has a spacious new first-floor home where Terps can collaborate and network to scale up student-run startups and take them out to the world.

The IDEA Factory’s movable walls and shared spaces will promote dialogue between students, entrepreneurs and faculty who are working in diverse fields such as multimedia, robotics, rotorcraft and quantum engineering. Particularly striking is a façade dominated by an enormous window—made from laminated glass treated with a film that creates radiant color shifts in transmitted and reflected light—based on the angles at which light hits the window and on where viewers are standing.

The building is named for Emilio Fernandez, a 1969 Maryland engineering graduate, entrepreneur and inventor who holds dozens of patents, including one which defined e-reading devices and is the most-cited U.S. patent ever issued. Many of these patents were co-invented with his friend, business partner and fellow Terp Angel Bezos.

Their inventions and their company, Pulse Electronics, transformed railroad operations. The building’s cornerstone gift came from the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation’s Building Together: An Investment for Maryland in 2017.


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