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An architectural mockup of the Grand Challenges Research Building, located on Cherry Ave in the middle of the University of Arizona campus. The building is planned to be completed in early 2024.

On Tuesday, Sept. 28, the University of Arizona broke ground on a seven-story research building next to the McKale Memorial Center that is expected to be completed in February 2024. 

The $99 million building is the latest expansion for the Wyant College of Optical Sciences complex, which will occupy roughly half of the building’s 115,000-square-feet. The Grand Challenges Research Building is planned to serve as an interdisciplinary hub in the fields of quantum information science, biomedicine, space exploration and more.

“This building will expand educational opportunities and help us to address societal challenges by allowing our students and faculty to be together at the cutting edge of their fields, working side-by-side,” said Liesl Folks, university senior vice president for academic affairs. “This is obviously important to our graduate students who couldn’t do their work otherwise, but it also engages undergraduate students in research… It’s not always easy, but it is so powerful because it allows us to support our students in their transformation from knowledge consumers to knowledge creators.” 

The Grand Challenges Research Building takes its name from one of five “pillars” of UA’s Strategic Plan, tackling society’s biggest challenges by enabling discoveries to shape the future. According to UA, the building will include a ground floor with public spaces, study spaces and meeting rooms to support student engagement and instruction, as well as three floors of laboratories and offices dedicated to faculty growth in the College of Optical Sciences.

The Grand Challenges Research Building is located next to UA’s Meinel Building, which itself also expanded the College of Optical Sciences when it opened in 2006.

“When I look at the [optics] buildings, and the research we’re doing in them now, almost none of that was thought of when the buildings were built. So I don’t know what’s going to happen in this new building during the next 50 years, but I do know it’s going to result in a lot of great discoveries, inventions and companies,” said James Wyant, professor emeritus, namesake and founding dean of the Wyant College of Optical Sciences. 

The building will also contain three floors dedicated to other science, engineering and interdisciplinary research. In particular, the building will house the UA’s new Center for Quantum Networks, which is also led by the College of Optical Sciences. The Center for Quantum Networks aims to “lay the foundations of the quantum internet” for unprecedented computer processing and communication. The Center for Quantum Networks is supported by a five-year, $26 million grant that the National Science Foundation awarded UA in August 2020.

“It will be a building that is inspiring to be in, and in my career I’ve found that there’s really nothing like that,” said Betsy Cantwell, UA senior vice president for research and innovation. 

The Grand Challenges Research Building was designed by ZGF Architects and BWS Architects. Kitchell Contractors, the construction firm that built UA’s Health Science Innovation Building in 2019, will be the contractor. The new building is being constructed on Cherry Avenue in the place of a former parking lot next to the Cherry Avenue parking structure. 

“We’re especially excited about the central role that optics and photonics holds in the future of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” said Thomas Koch, dean of the Wyant College of Optical Sciences. “As human beings, we’re increasingly extending ourselves beyond the confines of our bodies and senses, with information and knowledge from the cloud or through intelligent autonomous systems. These will help us perform our jobs better, whether that be as a teacher, a surgeon or an engineer designing the solutions of tomorrow.”