Guest blog post by Pat McMurray of the Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment (WCEE):
Visiting the Center for Advanced Engineering and Research (CAER) near Lynchburg, Virginia, is an aesthetic treat. The Center is an unusually beautiful modern building that fits perfectly into its wooded setting. The structure reflects the woods around it in color – and in design. The building is blue, green and tan. The supports for the roof and ceiling are abstract “tree” forms. Inside, wide glass walls and open workrooms make visitors feel they are still in the woods – natural beauty is right outside the glass. Inside is state of the art engineering technology.
The Center opened in August 2011. It was conceived several years earlier, when business leaders in South-Side Virginia became concerned for the future of their region. South-Side Virginia had relied on tobacco farming, textiles, and shoe manufacturing throughout much of the twentieth century. Those industries were passing into history. The business leaders decided that if they were to attract twenty-first century businesses, they needed to create a research university environment. Although there were research universities in other parts of Virginia, there were none in the south central or southwestern regions of the state. This center was created to fill that need.
Why is AREVA here as an important anchor tenant? The Center for Safe and Secure Nuclear Energy, one of the four research areas at the center, features AREVA’s next-generation nuclear power plant control room simulator that will help scientists and engineers plan state of the art control room design, digital technologies, and human performance measures. The digital control room includes a large, glass-walled observation area that will be useful both for visitors and for researchers who want to evaluate how operators interact with their displays and control systems.
The nuclear industry comprises one of the two major science clusters here; the other is the domain of the wireless communication industry. Together, they provide the research and development capacity that will attract more business to the region. Bob Bailey, the executive director of the Center, says all the Virginia universities have educational partnerships with the Center or a master research agreement with the Center. High school and middle school students at the local schools have also benefited from educational activities at the Center. Bailey adds that perhaps the most long lasting impact is how the entire region is perceived; no longer anchored to its agrarian past, but actively leading industries into the twenty-first century.