Rob Hunsperger – University of Waterloo
- Written by: Mary Raitt Jordan
- Produced by: Matthew Warner
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
Recognition within the highest circles of science is bringing the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario, to the forefront of scientific research on a world stage.
University professor Donna Strickland earned a Nobel Prize in Physics along with colleague Gérard Mourou of France in 2018. Based on their research and exploration of chirped pulse amplification, a free-electron laser will allow for deeper scientific discovery; in terms of practical applications, the technology has revolutionized the field of laser eye surgery.
Commercialization of research is a cornerstone of UW’s brand and continues to forge new industry partnerships and cooperative education opportunities, while keeping research and academic pursuit rooted in relevance. To that end, UW plans to build a world-class Science Centre for Innovation (SCI), part of it dedicated to the work of Strickland and Morou.
It’s an exciting time at UW, says Rob Hunsperger, the director of design and construction services at the university, his alma mater. “It’s a driver and source of inspiration to build this new building that will no doubt promote, attract and retain students and researchers to the university,” he says.
With an estimated price tag of $90 million, the SCI will provide 140,000 square feet of research space in a four-story building that will connect to an existing complex of science buildings on campus to create a courtyard—fulfilling a campus master plan goal of punctuating the pedestrian-friendly pathways with vibrant exterior spaces.
The University of Waterloo advancement team is fundraising for the building which will have specialized equipment anticipated to be procured under the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) grant program.
The SCI, designed through a joint venture between Hariri Pontarini and ZAS Architects, with a team of nationally recognized engineering consultants, is primarily dedicated to interdisciplinary research space focused on health technologies and water science. Additionally, the Science Innovation Hub, as well as the Science and Business Program will be in the building.
The sophisticated instrumentation spaces will provide for an integrated high-throughput screening and analysis system, a national facility for an infrared-free electron laser, an environmental particle analysis laboratory, and biochemical and structural biology laboratories.
The free-electron laser, also referred to as the WaterFEL is a most unusual piece of equipment.
“There’s nothing like it in North America,” Hunsperger says. “This makes for both an unusual and challenging project.” The consulting team was able to visit the nearest, and newest, facility of this kind in Germany, just prior to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
In quest for scientists
“This is a little city in Canada, not known for the best weather,” Hunsperger says. “It can be difficult to attract scientific rock stars to campus here when they can choose to go anywhere in the world.”
“When the University of Waterloo was born in the mid-1950s, there were strong underpinnings to connect it to a co-op educational experience. It was part of our DNA, and we delivered on that,” Hunsperger explains. The goal is to inject that back into the academic experience with practical business and commercial applications.
The broader goal of UW—founded in 1957—is to offer technically rigorous university programs in arts, engineering, applied health sciences, math, environment and science.
The most recent project to support UW programming is on the east campus, a $4.5 million Autonomous Vehicle Research and Intelligence Lab (also known as AVRIL) completed in 2019. The one-story 7,050-square-foot building has 10 vehicle bays and will house research on self-driving vehicles in all weather conditions.
A proposed new math building is slated for the future, and in the final stages of construction is a major addition to the Student Life Centre. Bridging the existing facility with the Physical Activities Complex, the project will increase accessibility and promote health and wellness for students.
UW is also creating a stronger engineering presence on campus with a project known as Engineering 7. In collaboration with design firm Perkins & Will, the new $88 million, 200,000-square-foot addition was completed less than a year ago and involved industry partners including Toyota. It has a seven-story atrium featuring two-story glass walls, in addition to labs dedicated to emerging technologies in engineering.
The building was featured in an episode of The Amazing Race Canada with a robotics challenge centered around the RoboHub, a state-of-the-art robotics research, testing and training facility.
“We’re pushing forward on all fronts,” says Hunsperger.
Understanding the balance between private and public sector concerns is something Hunsperger knows well, given his own experience.
Graduating from UW with degrees in both architecture and environmental studies in architecture in 1997 and 2001, Hunsperger first took jobs in eastern Canada at Ball Construction and Melloul-Blamey Construction. Heading to western Canada in 2004, he became a senior architect and associate at Cannon Design in Vanco
uver for six years before heading back east to work as a senior architect for prominent firms in the Waterloo region.
It was there that Hunsperger connected with UW as a consultant, becoming the director of design and construction in 2017. His greatest insights into his future work on campus—which he calls a microcosm of a city—were during the time spent working construction projects throughout British Columbia.
“It was exciting to leave private practice and engage in design excellence and longer-term planning to promote sustainability at the school,” he says.
His experiences working on a wide range of building types served him well at UW and included rapid transit, sport and recreation, health care, post-secondary institutional and multiunit residential.
“It’s progressive to be here, supporting academia and research into emerging technologies,” Hunsperger says. “While some people get frustrated with the pace of public sector work, I feel our team is a contributor to a greater good. I’m in it for the long term.”
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