OSU-Tulsa Helmerich Research Center boasts innovation, partnership at showcase
By Stacy Ryburn
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What comes out of the OSU-Tulsa Helmerich Research Center may not always be tangible, but its impact can be felt across the state.
Everything from material to line space shuttles, durable lightweight fuel tanks, a device to extract oil from cedar chips and “the cleanest clean room in Oklahoma” can be found somewhere in the 123,000-square-foot facility just northwest of downtown.
The center opened in January 2008, thanks to $30 million in Tulsa County Vision 2025 funding, $12.9 million from the state in the most recent higher-education bond issue and a $9 million donation from the Helmerich family.
The campus hopes to obtain additional funding from the Vision 2025 renewal to construct a facility dedicated to the private sector located on a vacant lot across Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, OSU-Tulsa President Howard Barnett Jr. said.
“What we have found, interestingly enough, in the last year or so is a real need in the city of Tulsa for private companies to utilize some of our very specialized, high-end equipment for testing of their own materials,” Barnett said. “This building is basically dedicated to material science.”
Administration officials, graduate and undergraduate students, and faculty and staff proudly displayed some of that equipment during a showcase Tuesday.
The center boasts likely the cleanest clean room in the state with about 100 particles per cubic foot, researcher and manager Jonathan Gonzales said. Other universities and business partners from all over pay to use it, or pay to have OSU-Tulsa staff test and develop materials there.
An example of something that comes out of the Helmerich Research Center clean room is pure silicon, which is used for everything from a tire’s pressure sensor to the cellphone part that tells the screen to flip when turned, Gonzales said.
Enough material for thousands of devices can fit on a single disk about the size of a palm.
The School of Material Science and Engineering also has been hard at work on developing a composite material to put in the lining of space shuttles that would potentially reach Mars.
The problem is a trip to Mars would take at least six months round trip. Human beings can endure no more than three to four months in space before succumbing to radiation poisoning, Professor Ranji Vaidyanathan said.
Other endeavors reach far and wide at the research center. The building represents partnerships that wouldn’t come together otherwise, and that have a direct economic impact on the state, Professor Raman Singh said.
“It creates the network of translating fundamental research into outreach and extension activities that benefit local manufacturers and local businesses, both big and small, in terms of leading technological development in the state,” he said.
Barnett said the university tries not to brag too much, but on Tuesday it made an exception.
“I’m continually confronted with rumors around town that nothing goes on in this building,” he said. “The purpose of today is to dissuade you of that.”