DURHAM – Microsoft will build what is being called an “Innovation Hub” at the Chesterfield building in Durham as part of a research agreement with Duke University.

The hub was disclosed as part of a collaboration deal announced between Duke and the tech giant which involves use of cognitive and research tools made available through Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing offering. The facility is expected to be completed by this fall.

The Chesterfield is already home to a variety of life science startups and related firms. Duke already is committed to occupying some 100,000 square feet of the 286,000 square foot structure which used to be a tobacco factory. The first Duke researchers recently began moving in to the building, which was remodeled by Wexford Science + Technology.

According to Duke and Microsoft, Tallman Trask, III, Duke’s executive vice president, was the architect behind the agreement. And Trask said the Microsoft hub will boost Durham’s reputation as a growing technology center.

“I was lucky to be in Seattle more than 30 years ago when Microsoft was a startup there,” said Trask in the announcement. “It’s great that Microsoft and Microsoft Research have recognized not only the value that can come from research collaborations with Duke, but also the rise of Durham into a tech hub.”

Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed. Specific details about the size of the facility and staffing also were not disclosed.

WRAL TechWire submitted several questions about the project to Microsoft. A Microsoft spokesperson declined comment, telling the Duke News Service person who submitted the questions there is “Nothing more to add at this time.”

“We can leverage all of the work they have done and we can build on it,” said Dr. Lawrence Carin, Duke’s vice provost for research. For example, Microsoft’s efforts to improve radiology with data science can be built upon and advanced by Duke radiologists and data scientists, he said. Carin added that university researchers will utilize Azure cognitive searches such as speech-to-text, natural language processing and machine vision.

“With Microsoft’s support, we will also enable graduate students in research labs to access the rich set of Microsoft Azure services,” Carin added. “The computational power that this will bring to our research endeavor is immense.”

Carin also is a co-founder of Infinia ML, an artificial intelligence and machine learning startup in Durham.

The Microsoft hub “will be near researchers from Duke’s schools of medicine and engineering and the Duke Clinical Research Institute,” Duke said in the hub announcement. However, Duke students and faculty will have access to the Azure offerings without having to utilize the lab.

The university already utilizes Azure and will utilize the cloud platform for healthcare research, educational programs and operations, Duke noted.

“We are excited to launch a collaboration with Duke University that can bring the power of Microsoft Azure to some of the world’s most challenging research questions,” said Margo Day, Microsoft’s vice president of US Education.