Clean Room Boosts UA Little Rock in Biomedicine

Clean Room Boosts UA Little Rock in Biomedicine
Brian Berry

A 160-SF clean room for biomanufacturing is set to open this quarter or next at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, spurred by NuShores Biosciences LLC opening one of its own in west Little Rock a few months back.

“When NuShores got the opportunity to set up a clean room off-site, we all of a sudden realized that there was a great opportunity for us and that there was a piece missing in the education of students,” Brian Berry, vice provost of research and dean of the Graduate School, said. “We thought this is a great opportunity to create a very similar environment to what these students will see out in the industry, right on our campus, in order for them to do research in and get the training that they need to really be able to excel in the workforce.”

NuShores, by the way, is licensing NuCress bone regeneration technology from the school and, according to Berry, hires a lot of its graduates.

He said the clean room project represents an infrastructure investment of about $50,000. It isn’t grant-funded.

“So it’s a relatively small investment, not insignificant, but the return on it will be great because it has a twofold return. One is on the education of our students … so that we can produce a skilled workforce in order to develop even more industry in central Arkansas related to biomedical manufacturing,” Berry said. “But the second thing is it’s going to allow us to continue to innovate in the Center for Integrative Nanotechnology Sciences and continue doing cutting-edge research that will hopefully spin off into more companies … and products that can be manufactured right here in central Arkansas.”

The decision to install the room at the center was made last spring, but the pandemic delayed its opening, Berry said. Necessary equipment is being installed now.

In addition to students and the center’s researchers, entrepreneurs and companies will be able to pay a fee to use it, he said.

Berry sees the project as a way for Arkansas to break into a new industry. “Biomedical engineering and biomanufacturing, we see a lot of growth potential there, and we see a lot of opportunities for growth of that industry within the state,” he said.

Cybersecurity Education

Last semester, UA Little Rock introduced its Cyber Gym to more than 450 high school students at 80-plus schools across the state through its partnership with Virtual Arkansas.

Virtual Arkansas partners with local schools to provide course opportunities to students that otherwise might not be available with local resources, its website says.

UA Little Rock has also partnered with organizations that provide training to adults, and plans to incorporate the gym as a lab for the cybersecurity bachelor degree program it will launch this fall.

“The Cyber Gym is a cloud-based environment. It allows students and teachers to set up and do exercises in cybersecurity,” including team-based games, said Albert Baker, interim chair of the Department of Computer Science. There aren’t physical terminals in one location that users have to go to. If you have a Chromebook, you can use the Cyber Gym, he said.

The exercises have students conduct an attack on a virtual system, protect that system from an attack and, often, both.

The Cyber Gym has an annual budget of $50,000 that covers user support and pays the UA Little Rock students who develop exercises for it, according to Philip Huff, the assistant professor of computer science and cybersecurity who helped develop the Cyber Gym.

He called it “cost effective” as well, given the lack of physical equipment needed, adding that it can be up and running in a matter of minutes and that an exercise can take a day or so to develop.

The Cyber Gym is also currently supported by a $200,000 National Science Foundation grant, a $50,000 Arkansas Department of Education grant and a $10,000 grant from Google.

In addition, the Forge Institute of Little Rock is using it to train cybersecurity apprentices, and the Arkansas Small Business Technology & Development Center is using it to provide cybersecurity training to small businesses.

Sandra Leiterman, managing director of the Cyber Gym, said it’s important for the university to offer because cybersecurity is a growing career field and “the more people we can educate on the risks of cybersecurity, I think, the better off our businesses will be” because they are vulnerable to cyberattacks that can destroy them.