Entrepreneur Bal Dixit has gifted $2 million for a new lab at Rochester Institute of Technology’s Golisano Institute for Sustainability to enable innovative research and testing on fire-resistant materials and systems.

Photo credit: RIT

The Bal Dixit Laboratory for Advanced Materials and Fire Protection Research is designed to perform industry testing, research and analysis on fire-resistant materials for product manufacturers or sellers of protective clothing, fabrics and coatings that require flammability, heat resistance, smoke composition and other advanced testing. The lab will work with companies seeking custom thermal testing and product development.

The Dixit Lab features a vertical flammability tester to measure the ignition-resistant properties of material; a smoke density chamber to evaluate the optical density and determine the composition of smoke given off under flame and non-flaming conditions; and a large test furnace that will determine the heat resistance and heat-transfer readiness of engineered systems.

Dixit received his MBA from RIT’s Saunders College of Business in 1974—four years before he launched Newtex, where he created the industry’s first safe and commercially viable alternative to asbestos. The new RIT lab has been a longtime dream of the Katol, India, native.

“As founder and CEO of Newtex, I encouraged and valued creativity and innovation, along with taking calculated risks,” Dixit said. “I believed in those days that the best way to stay ahead of the competition was to find new and better ways to solve problems.

“I am hopeful that my gift will enable a new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs to explore, create and test materials that change their world in positive ways—much the way we tried to do at Newtex,” he added. “I couldn’t be happier that the Dixit Lab came to life here—at RIT, my alma mater—and in Rochester, N.Y., my adopted home.”

Mike Haselkorn, a GIS research professor and the lab’s director, said the new RIT lab will be “hands-on and experiential as it explores new frontiers in which advanced materials can improve the quality of life on Earth, and perhaps beyond.”

“Products will be tested under extreme conditions to improve performance and accelerate product innovation,” Haselkorn said. “This will make products more durable, sustainable and protective, maximizing their impact on the world around us.”

As a university, Haselkorn added, RIT will not only be able to perform testing on fire-resistant products and materials, but also “the analytical work to tell companies why something worked and why it didn’t.”

He noted that the lab also will have an educational component, teaching RIT students about research and testing best practices through co-ops and providing workforce training for the next-generation of workers in this important research area.

Dixit is widely known for growing Newtex, expanding beyond Rochester.  He stepped down as president and CEO in 2006 but continues to serve as chairman of the board of Newtex Industries. He was inducted into the Rochester Business Hall of Fame in 2003. In addition to serving RIT as a trustee, he has been a member of the boards of Rochester General Hospital and the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce.

RIT officials expect the new lab to follow Dixit’s spirit of discovery and take the industry to new heights, the lab now bearing his name will encourage important collaboration between industry and academia.