HudsonAlpha’s Brewer named IAAP Foundation board chair

Stacey Brewer, executive coordinator for Dr. Neil Lamb at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, was recently appointed as board chair for the International Association of Administrative Professionals Foundation. Brewer will serve a two-year term.

“Successful organizations depend on top-tier administrative professionals like Stacey Brewer,” said Lamb. “Admins are arguably the critical ‘connective tissue’ that keep a group informed and on track. Stacey is key to our educational outreach program’s success and I’m appreciative that IAAP has equipped him with relevant and timely professional development tools.

“We’re proud of his work with the Foundation and excited about his appointment as board chair.”

Midway Through the Mission: Making Huntsville a Gig City

If it hasn’t already, the Google van may be coming soon to your neighborhood.

Huntsville has never been the kind of place to wait around for technology to make its way here.

Sure, in many ways, Huntsville is still a traditional Southern city with long, hot, sultry summers and a penchant for football rivalries and ice-cold beer.

But make no mistake – Huntsville’s pluck and grit is writ in rocket flames. Never mistake a slow way of talking for short-sighted vision.

That was made clear back in 2012 when Google Fiber sent out its initial call to cities across the nation, interested in partnering with the technology giant to build a high-tech fiber network worthy of bringing gigabit internet service and Voice-over IP telephone services to the Tennessee Valley.

When all the entrants, including Huntsville, were thrown into the hat and a select few cities were chosen, Huntsville wasn’t among them.

Oh well.

If in 1956, the Redstone Testing Center had given up the first time a missile disintegrated on a test stand, Malawi may have put men into space before Huntsville!

According to Lauren Johannesmeyer, city manager for Google Fiber, Huntsville city leaders know something about executing a mission and Harrison Diamond, then the director of project management at the Huntsville/Madison Chamber of Commerce, was on a mission.

“I remember back as early as 2013, Harrison (now the business relations officer for the City of Huntsville), had a vision for what a gig city looks like,” said Johannesmeyer. “Between the Chamber of Commerce, Huntsville, and Huntsville Utilities, they basically said, ‘We’re going to build the network anyway’.

“Once that was established, Google Fiber came back and said, ‘If you are going to build it anyway, can we lease it from you?’”

That initiative makes Huntsville a one-of-a-kind model for Google Fiber, the only city in the country where a utility company is constructing the network rather than Google Fiber.

“Huntsville may be the first, but we won’t be the last to make this investment,” said Joe Gerhdes, director of communications and public relations for Huntsville Utilities. “Huntsville has drawn the interest of utility companies in many cities across the country who are looking at doing the same. They are watching to see how successful we are.”

 

Rings & Huts

Huntsville Utilities is just short of midway through the build and right on schedule.

Construction consists of a fiber ring that encircles Huntsville to make it easy to branch service off into neighborhoods. The ring is divided into six fiber huts off which Huntsville Utilities connects the local Google Fiber network into the Internet backbone and the worldwide web.

“Huntsville Utilities manages and maintains the core ring that wraps around the City, and Google Fiber owns and manages the network from the point of access at the street, up to the customers house or business,” Johannesmeyer said. “Right now, in terms of serviceable areas for us, there is what I call a pizza slice-shaped section in north Huntsville. It was our very first opening on May 23, 2017.

“We also have all of Big Cove and Hampton Cove from Dug Hill Road to Cecil Ashburn Drive, and we are opening areas in south Huntsville near Mountain Gap and Challenger schools.”

Gerhdes added, “We started with the Chase Hut north of Winchester Road to Pulaski Pike because the Chase area power distribution center in northeast Huntsville was a great place to start.

“Big Cove and Hampton Cove are finished, and we are currently working on the Farley Hut in south Huntsville.”

He said the Triana Hut will service most of the core of downtown Huntsville including Blossomwood, and the utility is readying the 911 Hut near the Madison County 911 Center and Wynn Drive. The final construct will be the Jetport Hut at the western edge of Huntsville. The entire fiber network project is scheduled for completion in 2020.

 

 

Everyone Benefits From Improved Infrastructure

“This undertaking has been great for Huntsville, but it has also been great for telecoms and cable providers, too, because it has significantly improved the infrastructure under which all of these providers offer services,” Gerhdes said. “They too can now offer a better, more affordable service to their customers.”

Construction is always subject to change with many variables impacting schedules, but Google Fiber’s current contract with Huntsville Utilities is to service addresses they turn over to them as the ring expands within the Huntsville city limits. The lease agreement is not exclusive so other companies can lease out fiber on that ring as well.

In terms of what Google Fiber has to offer customers, its services include 100 MB or 1,000 MB (gigabit) fast residential internet options; traditional television services with 220+ channels that can be combined with their internet offering and Wi-Fi extenders; and a Voice-over IP (VoIP) phone service solution that uses the internet rather than traditional hardwired landlines.

Currently service to multifamily units (apartment complexes and condominiums) is minima but, ideally, Google Fiber wants to service as many people as possible so, as the ring grows, so will Google Fiber access.

“We also offer small and medium-size business gig packages with really cool extras businesses need to be successful,” said Johannesmeyer.

Community Involvement vital

She said community involvement is vital to promoting digital inclusion initiatives and education that provide groups and individuals with access to information and communication technologies. Google Fiber’s Community Impact Team works with local nonprofits to promote digital inclusion throughout the Tennessee Valley.

One of those enterprises is the Digital Inclusion Fund, created at the Community Foundation with sponsorship funding from Google Fiber to make Internet access and digital education available to residents currently without access to those resources. More than $100,000 in grant money was given to high-impact programs in North Alabama this past year.

“Ours is a very innovative model and we applaud Huntsville Utilities for their leadership,” said Johannesmeyer.

While the mission to make Huntsville a Gig City cannot yet be stamped “accomplished” – it is certainly in full rattle-battle!

To find out if Google Fiber is available in your neighborhood or business location, visit https://fiber.google.com/cities/huntsville/. You may also submit your email address to be notified when it is available.

With New Propst Center, HudsonAlpha’s Mission Continues

Carter Wells, executive vice president of economic development, left, and Dr. Rick Myers, president and science director, look over containers filled with more than five million beads representing the number of people who have been touched by HAIB’s education outreach program over the past 10 years. (Photo by Wendy Reeves)

Brightly colored beads in clear containers of various sizes and shapes represent more than 5 million learners who have experienced a HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology (HAIB) educational outreach opportunity.

The display covering the past 10 years sits on the second floor of the new Paul Propst Center, which opened in September.

The education team, headed by Dr. Neil Lamb, has reached students, educators, clinical professionals, patients and members of the public who participated in internships, teacher training workshops, public seminars, clinical training and digital downloads for educational games like iCell and Touching Triton, said Carter Wells, HudsonAlpha vice president of economic development.

The display is more than a creative display of numbers as it represents one of the four missions set forth by founders Jim Hudson and Lonnie McMillian before the HAIB opened its doors 10 years ago. It represents how far HAIB has come with the opening of its fourth facility on the campus.

The pair set out to create a center to conduct genomics-based research to improve human health and well being; implement genomic medicine, spark economic development; and provide educational outreach to nurture the next generation of biotech researchers and entrepreneurs, as well as to create a biotech literate public.

The education outreach team has three new learning labs, office and collaboration space spread across two floors in the new facility. Dr. Rick Myers, president and science director at HudsonAlpha, said the new space will allow the education team to increase its teaching opportunities.

Many learners who have experienced HudsonAlpha’s hands-on classroom activities, or participated in summer camps or internship programs are now a part of the HudsonAlpha workforce, or working in life science research institutes or companies across the country.

The Propst Center consists of 105,000 square feet housing about 150 tenants. The new building was funded by a $20 million state grant, and a donation by Huntsville businessman and philanthropist William “Bill” Propst Jr. The building is named for his father, a North Alabama minister.

On the second floor, those small, colorful beads are just one small example of what has transpired at the growing campus during its first 10 years. Those accomplishments lead to the construction of the new Propst Center, which looks and feels similar to the main building, where companies such as Conversant Bio started growing.

The company, which recently merged with four others to become Discovery Life Sciences, provides researchers around the world with hyper-annotated tissue samples in order to conduct informed, cutting edge investigations into many of today’s most problematic diseases.

“There was a lot more open space here when we started, and we started to take small bites of the apple here and there and we finally ran out of space,” said Marshall Schreeder, co-founder of Conversant Bio and vice president of sales and marketing for DLS. “We feel both fortunate to be a part of HudsonAlpha and the Huntsville community. I’m from here and love it here but we could have started our company anywhere.

“What we didn’t realize is how this community would embrace us … and how well this vision would work out.”

Other HudsonAlpha associate companies in the Propst Center include Microarrays, Alimetrix and iRepertoire, along with HudsonAlpha Software Development and Informatics (SDI), which develops software to analyze and interpret genomic and clinical datasets and works to identify and understand the genetic underpinnings of diseases.

“We’re a lot farther along than I ever expected and I’m a fairly optimistic person,” Myers said. “But this synergy that happens here on our campus … we call it our ecosystem with 800 people on our campus, there’s lots of interaction … and I didn’t anticipate how powerful it would be.”

 

 

 

Onyx Aerospace opens office in Stovehouse

Athens-based Onyx Aerospace opens office in Stovehouse

 

Athens-based Onyx Aerospace has expanded and opened an office in Stovehouse on Huntsville’s Westside. The announcement was made by Stovehouse Properties and Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate.

The aerospace engineering firm will occupy a 2,058-square-foot open-air office space.

“Stovehouse is a vibrant destination that has given us the freedom and flexibility we were looking for,” said Onyx President Steve Hanna. “During our first few months at the development, we found that our team was able to bring ideas to the table faster and get the job done more efficiently. Environment plays an important role when it comes to productivity, and Stovehouse offers a unique work/play setting with food options, entertainment and fresh air when you need to step away from the desk.”

Onyx’s customers include NASA and Boeing and the location provides easy access.

“Onyx has a heavy customer base at Redstone Arsenal and Cummings Research Park,” Hanna said. “Stovehouse is central to our clientele and provides multiple access points to major highways and Huntsville hot spots.”

Hannah said Onyx is a HUBZone company and is looking for ways to encourage growth of HUBZone neighborhoods

“From the beginning, Stovehouse has been clear in its mission to boost West Huntsville by introducing passionate and inventive businesses to the area,” said Stovehouse Properties Owner/Developer, Danny Yancey. “Onyx immediately got behind the project and they have fully embraced the creative atmosphere we’ve cultivated. We look forward to supporting them as they expand their footprint in Huntsville.”

 

 

Turner celebrates topping out at Aerojet Rocketdyne plant

Turner Construction’s Lee Holland signs the I-beam during the topping-out ceremony. (Photo by Nathan Bivens)

Turner Construction recently celebrated the topping-out for Aerojet Rocketdyne’s Advanced Manufacturing Facility in Huntsville. The facility began construction in March and is set for completion in December.

The 136,000-square-foot industrial facility, sitting on 18.25 acres at the corner of Pulaski Pike and Prosperity Drive, will be used to produce subcomponents of the AR1 rocket engines, composite cases for rocket motors and 3D-printed rocket engine components.

The plant will also bring approximately 180 jobs.

Project executives and site leaders at the event included James Ramseier, senior manager at Aerojet Rocketdyne; Chip Cherry, CEO of Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce; Medora Gaddes, assistant project manager at Hoar Program Management; Justin Lanfair, Turner Construction project manager; and Denny Lulfs, Turner Construction superintendent.

Lulfs, along with the project team, raised the final beam during the celebration.

“Turner’s extensive background in aerospace and manufacturing work made them ideally suited for this project, and we’re excited to see the progress so far,” said Ramseier. “Their team’s high level of knowledge and experience gives us great confidence in their ability to complete this highly technical and complex project on schedule.”

Rendering shows the Aerojet Rocketdyne facility that is expected to be completed in December.

The building’s exterior is a conventional steel framing, with site-cast insulated load-bearing tilt-up wall panels. Inside, there will be several 5- and 10-ton cranes and process-driven utility systems. Turner is collaborating on the project with Fuqua & rtners Architects and engineers at LBYD, SSOE Group and S&ME.

“Having already built a number of large aerospace facilities across North Alabama and the nation, our team was well prepared to take on a project of this magnitude,” said Lee Holland, project executive at Turner Construction’s Huntsville office. “We’re proud to be a part of this high-profile facility, which will continue to build Huntsville’s reputation as an emerging aerospace and technology hub.”

Sentar awarded $12.1 Billion U.S. Army contract

 

Sentar, a Woman-Owned Small Business, was recently awarded a potential, nine-year, $12.1 billion contract from the Army.

The Huntsville-based company specializes in advanced cybersecurity and intelligence services and technology. The award is an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract for Information Technology Enterprise Solutions-3 services, known as ITES-3S. The program  is expected to be the Army’s primary source of IT-related services worldwide. The contract ceiling value is $25 billion.

“Sentar is excited to be recognized as a leading small business that can provide the innovation and agility required in today’s cybersecurity-intensive IT environment,” said Bridget Abashian, CEO and president of Sentar. “We look forward to strengthening our relationship with our Army customers and delivering services essential to the soundness of our nation’s most critical programs for years to come.”

 

Star Lab moves office to Stovehouse

Star Lab has moved its engineering office to Stovehouse. (Star Lab Photo)

 

A Washington, D.C.-based security company has moved its Huntsville office to the city’s Westside.

Star Lab, an embedded security company which provides solutions to defense and commercial customers, recently moved to the Stovehouse development.

The company relocated its Huntsville engineering facility to a 4,626 square-foot space at the historic mixed-use development on Governors Drive.

“Stovehouse has an authenticity that makes it appealing to our employees and clientele,” said Star Lab CEO and Irby Thompson. “We chose the location for practical reasons, like its close proximity to Redstone Arsenal and Research Park.

“However, we also committed to Stovehouse because we were looking for an environment that wasn’t ‘cookie-cutter’ and provided amenities like food options and after-work entertainment.”

Founded in 2014, Star Lab’s mission is to ensure that critical systems operating in hostile situations are able to withstand cyber attacks, reverse engineering and other nefarious activities. The company safeguards the integrity and security of multibillion-dollar assets and provides solutions that severely limit potential attacks.

Danny Yancey, owner/developer of Stovehouse Properties, said Star Lab has been a great addition to the development.

“Having Star Lab as part of our growing community has been a privilege,” said Yancey. “Irby and his team were in search of a space that would align with their culture and values, as well as provide more visibility to their growing client base.

“Stovehouse delivers the collaborative setting they were looking for and we are honored to have them on board.”

For information, visit stovehouse.com and starlab.io.

 

HudsonAlpha Receives $1.29M for Digital Storytelling Tool

The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology has received a five-year, $1.29 million grant to develop a story-driven digital learning platform for bioinformatics and infectious disease. The grant comes from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the NIH through the Science Education Partnerships Awards (SEPA).

The program, called “Filtered,” takes students on a journey of discovery as they are charged with researching a pandemic outbreak of a mysterious, fictional infectious disease. They’re asked to use a simulated bioinformatics program to compare genetic sequences of viruses to determine the ancestral origin of this novel and deadly pathogen.

Bioinformatics has been characterized as a “Bright Outlook Occupation” by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, projected to grow much faster than average over the period 2014-2024, with 100,000 or more projected job openings.

“We start with the need,” said Dr. Neil Lamb, vice president for Educational Outreach at HudsonAlpha. “We found … that it’s already a challenge to hire people in the bioinformatics space. It requires such a unique blend of science and computational backgrounds.”

“It’s a fascinating job field and we knew students would be hooked if they got a chance to experience it for themselves.”

Students can interact on a tablet or mobile device and an online version will also be produced.

HudsonAlpha Scientist on Forefront of Addressing Rare Diseases

 

Dr. David Bick named to Alabama Rare Disease Council

Alabama is working to be among the leaders in diagnosing rare diseases and Dr. David Bick of

HudsonAlpha’s Institute for Biotechnology is part of the strategy.

Bick, a clinical geneticist and a faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha, sees rare disease patients

at the Smith Family Clinic for Genomic Medicine located on the institute’s Huntsville campus.

Because of his expertise in genomic medicine and more than 20 years of clinical experience

Bick was recently appointed by Gov. Kay Ivey to the newly created Alabama Rare Disease

Council, established by the Alabama Legislature.

“There are a lot of people in Alabama with rare diseases and our purpose is to help our state’s

leaders address those needs,” Bick says of the 10-member council. “We want to improve the

healthcare of the citizens of our state and our leaders want to get expert advice in thinking

about it.”

He describes it as a diverse council with everyone from healthcare providers to researchers.

“There’s a lot of representation on the council that bring a variety of voices together in a room

if you will. The council is charged with trying to improve our understanding of how to

diagnose and make an impact on these on families dealing with rare diseases.

“If we can collect information on impact and cost and coordinate and collaborate among

different groups as a way to better inform lawmakers about what’s going on we can help

citizens to improve their care and overall health,” he added.

He says the council was established to be a voice for individuals with rare conditions, and

similar council’s are being set up around the country.

It’s also about realization of what genetics testing can provide.

“Being a geneticist, we see people with neurologic or immunologic conditions that while they

may be rare conditions, there are quite a bit (of people) out there with it. There’s a lot of

work being done in Alabama for medicine in general but one thing we tried to emphasize is

rare disease is not so rare,” he says.

For example, he says, Cystic fibrosis affects one in 2,500.

“That doesn’t sound like a very big number but we have all heard of it,” he says. “Take that

across the whole state and it all adds up.”

Another example, he says, is Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a condition that involves spinal cord

cells dying, usually in children but has been seen in adults at about one in 10,000.

“When you add up the numbers, it adds up to big numbers,” Bick says. “If one in 10 Americans

have a rare diseases, that’s about 400,000 in Alabama.”

Patients often arrive a Bick’s office after seeing multiple doctors or specialists who have gone

as far as they can with traditional testing models.

“A neurologist can say to a person who is having trouble walking that their condition has

something with the nerves in the legs,” Bick says. “It may be a peripheral neuropathy and

simple testing shows that but it may be that one of these rare conditions in which the nerves

are not working properly so we do DNA testing and look at the genes to determine the cause.”

For some, there is treatment. For other conditions, there is no treatment but there may be

clinical or pharmaceutical trials in which the patient might be interested in participating in or

following updates.

 Bick says when there are things that are not known from the testing, at least once it is known

what the condition is, the tests show if other family members are at risk for the condition and

if the condition will progress and if so, how it will progress.

 “People want to know what will happen to them, for example, if it’s nerves in the legs, could it

also impact other parts of the body? Sometimes it is yes, there are things we have to watch

out for or it may be simply the current symptoms are the only thing they will experience.

Bick says there is “tons” of research going on around rare genetic conditions for people who

have known conditions.

“We study them because we know how to develop a treatment but if we do not know what a

person has, how can we develop new treatments.”

Genetic testing is for those who have little or no family medical history. It’s also for those who

can’t get a diagnosis no matter how many tests or doctors they see.

The first step for genetic testing is to call to the clinic or get a doctor referral. A patient will

talk with a genetics counselor and if records are available from other doctors that have been

seen, they will be reviewed and costs will be discussed.

“After genome testing has been completed, if we can identify a genetic issue we will open up

lines of communication with the physician about the condition and see if we can further

identify the problem. Meanwhile, the doctor can tailor the patient’s care,” Bick says.

He says that of the 20,000 genes in the human genome, about 4,000 to 5,000 of them have

been connected to specific conditions. The remainder can be identified as doing its job or it’s

never been connected to a medical problem. Although there are hundreds of new conditions

figured out each year.

 “It gets us to lots of conditions already known and lots of others are being discovered,” Bick

says. “Once we’ve sequenced all the genes of a patient, we can go back every year or couple

of years to see if something new has turned up that would show a connection between a

specific gene and genetic condition.”

Huntsville is Mainstage for Worldwide Hackathon

With a pronouncement of “We are going to be to space travel what the Silicon Valley is to electronics,” Dr. Deborah Barnhart, CEO of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, launched a press conference Tuesday of global proportions.

Huntsville has been named as the “Mainstage” for the NASA International Space Apps Challenge, an annual worldwide hackathon. The Challenge is Oct. 19-21 and will feature coders, scientists, designers, storytellers, makers and builders who will address NASA-issued challenges on Earth and in space.

“Space Apps is an annual event … (held) at the same time in cities around the world,” said Toni Eberhart, executive director of Urban Engine, a local nonprofit organization aimed at accelerating STEAM-focused initiatives among the millennial startup community.

Last year’s Challenge reached more than 25,000 participants in 187 cities on six continents. The Mainstage sites were New York City and Palo Alto, Calif., but, this year, Huntsville is the only Mainstage and will feature local space and science professionals.

We are honored to be selected as Mainstage and host this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to engage the community in something that can have massive, global impact,” Eberhart said. Honoring Huntsville’s legacy in aerospace and aviation is something we’re so passionate about.

“To foster education and team collaboration in support of Space Apps, we’ll be providing a wealth of educational workshops at CoWorking Night which is designed to prepare teams and refine skills they’ll be using during the hackathon – and everything is being provided at no cost, thanks to our sponsors.”

Mayor Tommy Battle, who was introduced by Eberhart as Huntsville’s favorite “double millennial,” said the city is the perfect site because “we’re on NASA’s mainstage to get back to the moon and go to Mars.”

“This is a challenge that is made for Huntsville … to see our millennials and ‘double millennials’ working together.”

Hal Brewer, co-founder and chair of Intuitive Research and Technology – one of the event’s presenters, said this is a chance for businesses to take part for team building and “international exposure.”

In fact, he called out some local companies to answer the challenge.

“It’s a great opportunity to foster STEM research,” Brewer said. “If you sponsor this, you’re going to be getting international exposure.”

The Huntsville/Madison County Chamber is also a presenting sponsor and is launching its new website – asmartplace.com – to tie in with the Challenge while helping with career exploration.

“The brand new asmartplace.com is the Chamber’s workforce development and recruitment initiative, focused on connecting students with a smart career and attracting smart people from around the world to be part of our dynamic and growing workforce,” said Georgina Chapman, workforce director at the Chamber. “We knew the NASA Space Apps Challenge would reach the most talented and motivated coders, creators and problem solvers in the world, and we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to reach them directly.”

For information on the NASA International Space Apps Challenge, visit www.spaceappshsv.com.