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UMass Lowell, military join forces for research

LINCOLN -- "The Navy is here for business."

That's what Robert Smith, director of the U.S. Navy's Small Business Innovation Research program, had to say Tuesday at the opening of UMass Lowell's new Research Institute. The center will host a variety of public-private sector partnerships, including workforce development, research opportunities and more.

Located just down the road from Hanscom Air Force Base, a key component of the institute -- part of a university with the highest population of veteran students in the state -- will be its ability to work closely with various branches of the military.

"Those types of relationships are not common," said Joseph Hartman, dean of UMass Lowell's College of Engineering. "It's not often you see a university open its doors and say, 'Come share our space, work with us, we want to get these solutions to the right people faster.' That's why we're here today."

The Research Institute, a small space within a larger complex in Lincoln, already has three full-time employees and two part-time employees on board. They are currently helping engineers in Washington and at Hanscom collaborate on technical interchange, officials said.

To mark the opening, the university welcomed military leaders and elected officials, including Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, for a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday.

"It's all about people: the products you're making here will impact the quality of life for the people who use them," Polito said.

"But I think the celebration is really around the pipeline of talent. The people here in this room that can actually occupy the spaces in this lab can think together."

One key focus of the institute will be training programs, particularly on manufacturing, for defense industry personnel based on UMass Lowell curriculum. A $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense's Office of Economic Adjustment will boost that effort.

Members of the military at Hanscom and at the U.S. Army Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Natick will also be able to use the institute to access the university's scientists and engineers, a fact that several speakers highlighted as key on Tuesday.

"Proximity matters," said Steven Wert, program executive officer digital at Hanscom's Air Force Life Cycle Management Center. "Having this new research and development facility right outside the gate offers us options to extend our partnerships."

The opening Tuesday also represented another step toward UMass Lowell fulfilling the goals it set out years ago. At one point, Polito joked that the university's leaders might challenge those of UMass Amherst for the title of the system's flagship campus.

In her remarks, UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacqui Moloney highlighted the school's rapid growth -- what she said was one of the fastest rates in the country -- and the successful partnerships on display at the new center.

"This Research Institute is just another step in elevating this university, taking it to the next level, realizing our commitment to this great commonwealth and great nation," Moloney said.

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