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Construction of a $20 million facility that will house the world’s first six-sided digital virtual reality cube is under way at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

When completed, the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise facility in University Research Park also will contain the world’s largest 3-D auditorium. Both the reality cube and auditorium are powered by one of the fastest supercomputers in the world.

The LITE facility will allow researchers, both public and private, to manipulate complex data into workable 3-D models, said UL Lafayette President Dr. Ray Authement, who was present at the April 12 groundbreaking ceremonies.

“The establishment of LITE on the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus is a testament to the innovation, initiative and collaboration that can be found in Louisiana today,” Authement said. “It sends an unmistakable message: we have the brainpower, determination and resourcefulness that are hallmarks of progressive communities.”

Joining Authement at the groundbreaking were Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, state Commissioner of Administration Jerry Luke LeBlanc, and Dr. Wayne Denton, chairman the board, Lafayette Economic Development Authority.

Denton pointed out that LITE is a result of a successful collaboration between government, industry and UL Lafayette.

“The partnership between the university, LEDA and the state of Louisiana is a power combination that can help this area reach its economic potential,” Denton said. “LITE will be a tremendous tool in Lafayette’s economic toolbox. It will offer leading edge technology that can be applied in almost any field, from energy and manufacturing to aerospace and the military to medicine, environmental and entertainment. It has the potential to expand and draw technology rich partners from these industries and more.”

Gregg Gothreaux, LEDA president, said LITE is yet another example of Louisiana’s growing technology infrastructure that acts as a magnet to businesses looking to relocate. He cited the Louisiana Optics Network Initiative (LONI) and the National LambdaRail (NLR), developed in part through the work of UL Lafayette researchers, as examples.

“LITE is the most advanced visualization center in the world,” Gothreaux said. “It will serve as a catalyst to transform our economy.”

Dr. Bob Stewart, UL Lafayette’s vice president of research, said LITE will attract more than business to Lafayette.

“LITE has unlimited potential for UL Lafayette researchers. Its very existence will capture the attention of researchers around the world, creating exciting possibilities for collaboration with federal agencies, private industry and other universities. This new facility will enable UL Lafayette to broaden its research capabilities. It will also help university scientists to better compete for federal and private grants,” Stewart said.

While it is still early in the construction phase, LITE already has attracted worldwide attention and several strategic partners.

They include Merlin Oil and Gas Inc., an oil land service technology start-up headed by Mark Miller; C.H. Fenstermaker and Associates, one of the largest surveying and mapping firms in the South; Stone Energy, one of the nation’s leading independent oil exploration companies; Global Data Systems, LITE’s primary tenant who will serve as system integrator and will operate Network Operations Center and the data center; Christie Digital and James River Technical, who are assuming the major role in the implementation and market development of LITE resources; and Silicon Graphics Inc., LITE’s global information technology global partner.