Boise State University’s Innovative Culture and Lab Helps Drive Economic Development

PresObamaBSUBoise State University’s spirit of innovation — including the work of faculty and students and a variety of community partnerships — and a lab aimed at helping businesses create product prototypes recently caught the attention of President Barack Obama.

“Here at Boise State innovation is a culture that you’re building,” President Obama said during a talk on campus Jan. 21. “And you’re also partnering with companies to do two things — you help students graduate with skills that employers are looking for, and you help employees pick up the skills they need to advance on the job … it’s contributing to the economic development of the city and the state, as well as being good for the students.”

Before delivering his speech, the president visited Boise State’s College of Engineering and the New Product Development Lab, a collaborative effort housed in engineering and managed by the College of Business and Economics. The lab is recognized for offering creative and innovative solutions across a broad range of disciplines, as well as collaborative partnerships and opportunities.

The NPDL works with a number of local industries and entrepreneurs to design and prototype products and components and to help get them to market. One example is the design firm House of Design, which has extensive experience in robotics, custom automation, machine building/prototyping, design and analysis. Another is Rekluse Motor Sports, which uses the NPDL to prototype parts for high-performance motorcycles.

Thanks to their connection with Boise State, these two companies have collaborated to create a third business, called VersaBuilt, which designed a system to allow mobile robotic equipment to be moved and secured for additional manufacturing flexibility and efficiency.

The Boise State lab is engaged in wide range of rapid prototyping. Following are two examples:

  • “Printed electronics” using a light, flexible and conductive nano-material called grapheme. Grapheme can be “printed” in stacks onto tiny, inexpensive sensors, resistors and other electronics. These rapidly prototyped and produced chips can be attached to a package to track its location, or to human skin to monitor glucose levels.
  • Cutting-edge ceramics that are “co-fired” in a kiln along with embedded conductive and electronic materials. These can be used as micropropulsion devices that can keep nanosatellites in the correct orbit with microscopic bursts of energy

Experiences in these research labs or with new product development provide unique opportunities for students while they are still in college. Not only do they receive hands-on experience, but many also get hired immediately after graduation by the companies they have worked with.

The lab is just one of many ways Boise State is adapting educational practices to meet changing student and employer demands for new and evolving skills and competencies.

The most recent example of the entrepreneurial spirit that pervades campus is the new College of Innovation and Design, which will leverage the speed, collaboration and risk-taking of a start-up to re-imagine the way we teach, learn and conduct research at Boise State. Teams of faculty will cross traditional disciplinary boundaries to create new degrees and certificates, paving ways to learning that are more in sync with employer requirements for the workforce of tomorrow.

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