NORMAN — A new radar research facility will allow the University of Oklahoma to expand upon what already ranks as one of the university's premier programs, OU officials said Tuesday.
OU's $15 million Radar Innovations Lab is at the center of the university's efforts to expand its radar program into other applications beyond predicting the weather. The university broke ground on the facility Tuesday.
The OU College of Engineering also recently hired four faculty members to join the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. The new faculty members bring with them research interests in other applications, such as the use of radar to distinguish a military targets from clutter.
The new facility will include a high-bay garage designed to accommodate taller radar trucks that are fitted for storm chasing. The building also will include classified research space designed for U.S. Defense Department programs.
Other features will include two precision anechoic chambers, which are chambers that produce few or no echoes, a machine shop and a so-called ideas room designed to foster collaboration.
Kelvin Droegemeier, OU's vice president for research, said the construction of the new lab is a good recruiting tool for new faculty members. One of the keys to advancing the radar program is bringing in the best researchers in the world to work at OU, he said, and a top-notch facility can be a major selling point.
The building is designed to bring together faculty members and students from different areas to work together in the same building, Droegemeier said, meaning weather radar engineers will work alongside others who specialize in areas like defense and security. Putting different groups under one roof fosters collaboration and intellectual energy, he said.
The building will be located in OU's Research Campus, just east of the National Weather Center. The new lab will be a part of a thriving section of campus that was a vacant parcel of land just nine years ago.
OU President David Boren said the university's status as a national leader in radar technology is the result of decisions university officials made about where to invest.
The university couldn't realistically pick 100 or so areas and fund them well enough to turn them into nationally recognized programs. So university officials identified a few priorities that had the potential to set themselves apart and focused on them, Boren said.
OU's radar program has the capacity to offer new research and technology that could help advance society, he said. Universities traditionally have been the nation's greatest hotbeds of creative energy, Boren said, and OU hopes to continue that tradition.
“This facility will create the kind of creative energy and collaboration that we are talking about,” he said.