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UC researchers continue to blaze new trails in science, medicine, business, education, engineering and the arts — literally transforming the way we live, work and learn.

UC’s bold new research space, Digital Futures, taking shape

Findings Staff Report | Aug. 11, 2020

Before the year is through, a structure—unlike any other built in the University of Cincinnati’s 200-year history—will begin to rise in a corner of the Cincinnati Innovation District.

Six stories tall and 180,000-square-feet, Digital Futures will be designed specifically for interdisciplinary research at UC. When doors open the summer of 2022, Digital Futures will house some of UC’s top research—in the areas of artificial intelligence, sensors, analytics, education, informatics, simulations, policy, the creative arts and the humanities. Here, UC will generate new knowledge, test big ideas and create original technologies to uncover fresh approaches to digital challenges facing our region and world. 

“Digital Futures is really going to shake things up with a focus towards applied research designed to solve problems that matter,” says Associate Vice President for Research Jennifer Krivickas, leader of the Urban Futures pathway and responsible for the programming and design of Digital Futures. “This is the change-up culture President Neville Pinto and the world wants to see.”

Inclusive, future-forward research will be the name of the game at Digital Futures, says Krivickas, so UC’s Collaborative Change Collective—C3—formerly known as the Urban Futures Institute will also find a home there. C3 will develop new methods of participatory, public-engaged research with the surrounding Uptown and Greater Cincinnati community. Sustainability at UC, the university’s sustainability office, will also be there, helping align UC’s research and environmental goals.

“This is going to ignite digitally-enabled, human-centered research at UC,” Krivickas says, “We will be there for the community, working with the community and partnering with industry leaders, governments and nonprofit organizations to find practical solutions—it’s not lip service.”

A research facility like no other 

UC researcher Michael Riley wants to answer the question: “Can you teach someone to move properly?”

Can you, for example, teach athletes and soldiers to move in ways that prevent injury? Can studying human performance help with rehabilitation after a stroke, or predict how a body will respond on Mars? Can you reduce risk of bodily harm in a variety of occupations by studying how humans move correctly and how they move wrong?

When Digital Futures opens it will allow researchers to pursue the answers to questions like these. 

With a Ph.D. in experiential psychology, Riley plans on using the Human Performance Lab in Digital Futures to build on more than a decade of sensorimotor control research. 

In fact, UC has become known for developing and characterizing human movement and identifying deficits in movement. 

Riley and others in the psychology department have collaborated with researchers in the division of sports management at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for more than a decade to create an interactive biofeedback system to develop interventions for sports injuries. 

They are currently testing interventions that will hopefully reduce the risk of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, particularly in young female athletes, who are six to eight times more likely to suffer such injury, compared to their male counterparts. The study of 350 female athletes from local middle and high schools is funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

 “Our broad goal will be to conduct research and develop innovations that preserve, enhance and restore human performance,” Riley says.  

Like the roughly dozen other labs under development at Digital Futures— the Human Performance Lab is an interdisciplinary effort focused on solutions that can be translated into immediate impact.

Dozens of UC researchers from colleges and units across campus are being tapped for the research teams that are emerging, says Krivickas, and the building is being designed around them.

The space will be flexible and quite adaptable, say Associate Vice President for UC Planning, Design and Construction John Seibert. The structure will support state-of-the-art technology, but the labs will be built to move and change as needed. UC signed a long-term lease for the space with Terrex Development and the project is slated to open summer of 2022.

“This is a future-forward design that creates immersive, engaging and innovative environments,” Seibert says. “It is a collaborative facility that seeks to arrange and create spaces for exchanging ideas.”

A place of connection for all

Digital Futures will have a blank-canvas, open and industrial vibe founded on a modular bay design to allow great flexibility and adaptability. It will include classroom space, a café, an auditorium, community gathering spaces and rentable office space for private partners. 

The design is intended to encourage a free-flowing exchange of ideas, Seibert says, with deliberate inclusion of gathering spaces, such as canteens— a “kitchenette-plus,” with larger, welcoming seating areas—and inviting meeting spaces just outside of labs for mingling and collaborating.

Digital Futures is one of three buildings planned for this section of the Innovation Corridor at the southeast corner of Reading Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Terrex is calling the 5.8 acres the Urban Gateway, and it will include a second 200,000-square-foot office building and a 160-bed hotel. The three buildings will be connected by a greenspace with a 1,400-vehicle parking garage underneath. 

The area has been designed to feel like an extension of campus and is located just next door to UC’s 1819 Innovation Hub, Seibert says.

“The hotel will have a full-blown restaurant and bar; we’re looking at a coffee shop or café; and Terrex is looking at a lunch spot for the office building,” Seibert says. “The idea is to allow people to move throughout the site and interact with each other across all buildings.”

A competitive edge 

While there are many exciting developments to come at Digital Futures, things are really starting to come together in an exciting way, says Krivickas, who continues to work with UC senior leadership, DF research teams and community and private partners. 

“These programs are key to UC’s Next Lives Here playbook and Research2030 Strategic Plan,” says Vice President for Research Patrick Limbach, “and build on UC’s strength as an R1 research institution.” 

For researchers, like Riley, it means taking their work to the next level. 

“The research resources that Digital Futures is injecting in the UC ecosystem will allow us to attract a lot of partners, obtain external funding and give us a competitive edge,” Riley says.

Want to get involved in Digital Futures? Contact research@uc.edu.

Want to watch the building as it’s constructed? Check out the construction web cam.