UNL, private sector talent connect at Innovation Campus

UNL professor Shane Farritor operates a Virtual Incision surgical robot in the group’s Nebraska Innovation Center office and lab.

Shane Farritor first built things as a child in his family’s hardware store in Ravenna, Nebraska. His inclination toward tinkering is just as strong today — and he knows he’s not alone in his home state.

“Nebraska is full of makers,” Farritor says. “It’s one of the things I respect most about the state.”

A University of Nebraska–Lincoln professor of mechanical and materials engineering and a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, Farritor was an early proponent of developing a makerspace at Nebraska Innovation Campus. That space became a reality in 2015 as Nebraska Innovation Studio, the state’s largest makerspace. Since then, it has been a boon to Nebraskans looking to create new businesses, products and ideas.

But that’s just one part of Innovation Campus delivering impact to Nebraska.

Innovation Campus connects the university with the private sector by providing access to research faculty, world-class facilities and outstanding students. Located on the former Nebraska State Fairgrounds adjacent to the north end of City Campus, Innovation Campus is home to more than 45 partners, including Nebraska’s Department of Food Science and Technology and multiple private companies.

The Food Innovation Center includes a state-of-the-art distance education classroom, wet and dry lab research space, food-grade and non-food-grade pilot plant space and office space. Beyond teaching and conducting research, the Department of Food Science and Technology offers support to Nebraskans interested in cooking up innovation and turning recipes into reality.

The Greenhouse Innovation Center’s 45,000 square feet of greenhouse and headhouse space features state-of-the-art computer environmental controls and a LemnaTec High-Throughput Plant Phenotyping system. The facility is home to cutting-edge research advancing agricultural innovations necessary to feed the world’s growing human population.

Virtual Incision, a developer of robot-assisted surgery technology led by Farritor and University of Nebraska Medical Center surgeon Dmitry Oleynikov, moved into a new space last November on the first floor of the Rise Building, a new three-story, 75,000-square-foot structure at Innovation Campus. Virtual Incision is one of several start-ups growing there.

Farritor says the company is happy to have a larger facility with expanded capabilities, while remaining at Nebraska Innovation Campus. Retaining close proximity to Nebraska Innovation Studio is another bonus.

“We love being near the studio,” he says. “We often use the equipment there to make quick prototypes.”

Where the space and the culture inspire innovation, tinkering is expected.