UD’s Star Campus
Where science innovates to serve global, local needs.
As Kathleen Matt says goodbye to the University of Delaware, she can look back and say with confidence that the Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus she has helped build will impact generations of health care workers, scientists, engineers — and the future well-being of the general public — for years to come.
“What we’ve done in that space, with that land and part of those buildings, is now giving back to the community in a different way,” says Matt, outgoing dean of UD’s College of Health Sciences. “The economic development spreads around the state of Delaware.”
It’s almost hard to believe that just 15 years ago, the campus was just an abandoned auto-mobile plant. It was in 2009, two years after the Chrysler plant closed, that the university located across the street announced it had bought the 272-acre facility.
A decade’s worth of investment and expansion has converted the abandoned industrial site into a hub of collaboration, with 1 million square feet already in use or under construction — and work already underway for the new Newark Regional Transportation Center.
“I think the STAR Campus really is a mark of how important interdisciplinary and translational work is — work that really takes the science and knowledge and translates it into things that have application and impact on communities and culture and the surrounding area,” Matt says. “It’s not the university of academics just having an impact on the outside world — it’s all of the [community] having an impact, too … to make us evolve in ways that we might not.”
Take for instance the immense changes every-one has had to make as the coronavirus spread around the world. In just the two years since the COVID-19 pandemic began, one research group based at the STAR Campus has received more than $100 million in federal funding to pursue a slew of health care solutions most people didn’t realize would be needed in this lifetime. At the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals, better known as NIIMBL, scientists have been working to help with the pandemic response in any way they can since 2020. Now they’re also helping prepare and plan for the next pandemic by perfecting ways to process large batches of vaccines quickly, safely and effectively, for example.
“COVID has driven home the importance of global health,” says NIIMBL Director Kelvin Lee. “To feel like we’re part of that ecosystem that’s trying to meet the needs of our society broadly, it’s really remarkable from multiple standpoints.”
Serving the Community with Care
Meanwhile, the clinics at the Health Sciences Complex on campus and the health care research and public programs offered at the Tower at STAR, where part of the College of Health Sciences is based, have also morphed to meet new challenges. The addition of telehealth services and enhancement of electronic health record tools for the clinics on campus will help not only serve the patients there, but will also boost education and research potential, Matt says. For example, patients who may be struggling with a stutter could benefit from both the therapy offered at the Speech Language-Hearing Clinic as well as the research underway on campus to figure out whether early signs in the brain can shed light on recovery chances.
High-tech equipment at the complex, including a treadmill within a visual reality cave, also helps researchers simulate and better understand problems so that they can create new solutions. Health science and biopharmaceuticals education, research and development are just one part of the innovative work fostered at the STAR Campus, which initially helped the College of Health Sciences expand clinical research and training potential.
Another soon-to-come addition to STAR Campus is the six-story FinTech Innovation Hub. Owned by the Delaware Technology Park at STAR, the public-private partnership will elevate opportunities to expand financial services technology education and innovation.
“That will bring our first restaurant, which will be Grain,” a popular gastropub with an existing location in Newark, Matt says. “I think it does really create this tremendous opportunity that’s not instead of, it’s in addition to [the resources] for our students and faculty, and an opportunity to mix people together on the campus. We need to be very thoughtful and very intentional about how we train the next generation of the workforce. We’re influencing that.”
In addition to the health sciences complex at the Tower at STAR and the fintech building, the STAR Campus is home to the Ammon Pinizzot to Biopharmaceutical Innovation Center. The center houses NIIMBL, the Delaware Biotechnology Institute and a new biopharmaceutical research lab named Immerse Delaware that is the result of a partnership between the University of Delaware and Massachusetts-based Waters Corporation. ChristianaCare’s Gene Editing Institute and companies such as Chemours research and development are also located here.
In addition, the private developers at the Buccini/Pollin Group in March 2022 shared preliminary plans to build a 270,000-square-foot building with a combination of residential and commercial space, marking what would be the first residential building on the campus.
“It is this opportunity to really create a different kind of venue that is a mix of academics and business, companies and communities,” Matt says. “I don’t so much see it as my legacy. I guess, more than anything, I am just incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of something like this.”