Memorial Stadium expansion makes way for more fans, cutting-edge NU research initiatives

Mascots and fight songs, red-clad supporters and lots of cheering – just a typical day at Memorial Stadium, right?

But it was anything but ordinary Aug. 22 at the home of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Cornhuskers, as university officials, state and city leaders, representatives of the Big Ten Conference and other supporters staged a celebration for the historic expansion of Memorial Stadium’s east side.

NU President James B. Milliken, Board of Regents Chairman Tim Clare, Gov. Dave Heineman, UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman, Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst, and Athletic Director Emeritus and former Husker coach Tom Osborne were among the dignitaries leading the festivities. For many in attendance, the event was their first detailed look at the East Stadium expansion project, a $63.5 million venture made possible primarily through private funds that not only adds significant capacity to the stadium for fans but also includes space for two cutting-edge research initiatives focused on brain science and athletic performance.

In an interview with KLIN’s Drive Time Lincoln program following the ceremony, Milliken noted the unique collaboration between athletics and academics at Nebraska, saying others “stand up and take notice” when he mentions the important and timely research being done at Memorial Stadium. “This is a great combination of excellent programs for Nebraska… Nebraskans are going to be proud of the work being done there. It’s good for our athletes and it’s good for everyone else as well,” Milliken said.

The project expanded and elevated the height of the stadium’s east side, added 6,000 new seats, 38 suites and a new club level, and will increase Memorial Stadium’s average attendance to more than 91,000.

More than football

But the expansion doesn’t stop with the added seats. East Memorial Stadium also will house a more than 50,000-square-foot, first-of-its-kind center of innovation that integrates the university’s athletic and research endeavors. Located inside the expansion near Gate 20, the Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior (CB3) will house NU researchers who are at the forefront of the study of genetics, neuroscience, physiology, cognition and other areas of brain science. The center will feature state-of-the-art brain imaging technologies for faculty from an array of fields, including those based at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Concussion research is a cornerstone of the work at CB3, which will be occupied this fall by university researchers. Dennis Molfese, an international expert in brain imaging, and other UNL researchers are studying how the brain functions and processes information before and after concussions. Their focus is on athletes, but research could improve treatment for other head injuries.

A few steps to the north is the Nebraska Athletic Performance Laboratory, which also will be ready for use later this fall. The laboratory is poised to become a world-leading research and educational center that will enhance the performance, safety, health and well-being of student-athletes. The lab’s team, led by Judith Burnfield, unites researchers from diverse clinical and scientific backgrounds with industry partners and academic colleagues from across the nation.

Cutting-edge technology will be used to assess the impact of training interventions on athletic performance. Other work will focus on identifying factors that help predict injuries or chronic conditions later in an athlete’s life, with an ultimate goal of reducing this risk. While the research will focus on collegiate athletes, the novel technologies and interventions that emerge are expected to affect the lives of athletes across the ability and age spectrum.

The two research facilities are connected physically by a bridge and feature common working space to foster collaboration.

“This project has always been about more than football,” Eichorst said. “The foresight, passion and vision of Chancellor Perlman and Coach Osborne and the generous support of our fans and donors to create a state-of-the-art research collaboration facility has put this university at the forefront of progress. The Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior and the Nebraska Athletic Performance Laboratory are critical in our continued pursuit of excellence and in improving the experiences of all of our students.”

‘A point of strength’

Perlman said, “This is a celebration of an uncommonly strong partnership between athletics and academics. The new research facilities housed within the East Stadium represent a point of strength few universities can claim: a true collaborative partnership between academics and athletics.”

Governor Heineman said, “Memorial Stadium is a Nebraska landmark and the activities housed within its walls – outstanding athletics and world-class research – should make all Nebraskans proud. This addition will ensure even more fans can sit in the stands and cheer on the Huskers. More than 90 years ago, this facility was named Memorial Stadium to honor Nebraskans who died in service of our country. On behalf of all Nebraskans, I salute the many heroes who have served our country for more than two centuries and the memories that continue to build at Memorial Stadium.”

The Huskers will play their first game in the newly expanded stadium Aug. 31 against the University of Wyoming. Public tours will be 5 to 9 p.m. on Sept. 18.

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