This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identify solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.
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University of Utah President describes the newly signed deal with the College of Engineering as unbeatable.
“We have just been invited to the engineering Rose Bowl,” Taylor Randall said at a news conference Wednesday, “and we’re going to win this one because we can’t lose.”
After a decade of collaboration, the University of Utah’s College of Engineering and the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) finally made things official by joining the Strategic Understanding for Premier Education and Research, or SUPER agreement. The SUPER agreement allows both organizations, including U. students, staff and faculty, to work closely together in order to bolster the nation’s energy and security technology.
INL is the nation’s leading hub for nuclear energy research, testing and dissemination. The institution also contracts with the federal government to strengthen national security technology. Within the last ten years, U. faculty members and INL researchers have created a wireless communication program to assist first responders and law enforcement and helped develop cancer treatments.
Now, the partnership transforms personal agreements into a five-year memorandum of understanding between the university and the Battelle Energy Alliance, which oversees the Office of Nuclear Energy for the U.S. Department of Energy.
Randall hopes this high profile agreement will bump the U. into one of the top ten engineering schools in the country.
Currently, around 6,400 students are enrolled in the college, and Richard Brown, the dean of the university’s College of Engineering, wants to up that number to 10,000 with the intention of providing “highly educated employees for both Utah’s economy and INL.”
U. students will have access to internship opportunities that John Wagner, the director of INL, considers the “talent pipeline.” The hope is that students will intern at one of their facilities for a summer, establish a relationship and begin to grow their career with INL.
Brown said in an interview that this partnership will give students the chance to work with some “really terrific” researchers, equipment and other resources.
It will also benefit Utah’s tech companies, he said, since the more research they do, the more technology will get turned out.
Additionally, the SUPER agreement allows the U. to start researching classified information — a key part of the collaboration. The U. will host INL employees in the Price building where Randall says researchers will conduct “highly sensitive and secure research for government entities.”
Students and faculty will participate as well. Brown said the partnership will allow INL to sponsor clearances so that as soon as someone gets on board, they’ll be allowed to work on sensitive projects.
“I think that will be a big advantage for [the INL] as well as for our students,” he said.
A top priority for U.S. Representative Chris Stewert, R-Utah, is the national cybersecurity research the partnership will produce.
“We are literally looking down the barrel of a loaded gun when it comes to cyberattacks.” Stewart said. “And we’re behind the curve.”
With Russia escalating aggression toward Ukraine, Stewart says Vladimir Putin is “likely to retaliate” if Congress decides to impose sanctions on the country. But Stewart said the INL and U. collaboration allows the U.S. “to be in a much more defensive position” when it comes to cyberattacks.