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A place to house the most powerful electron microscopes in the world



HIGHLIGHTS

  • New home for the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy
  • Temperature fluctuations no greater than 0.1°C
  • Also one of the quietest buildings in the world
  • Complex technical specification delivered


This was a complex project that had to accommodate activities ranging from very sensitive nano science to heavy duty experiments generating vibration. This was a tremendous challenge, which makes the sense of achievement all the greater. Professor Lindsay Greer, Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy

Our building for the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy houses the most powerful electron microscopes in the world. These must also be in rooms quieter than a recording studio, with temperature fluctuations no greater than 0.1°C, and vibration levels 10,000 times lower than the maximum acceptable level for offices.

The project was the most technically challenging the University has ever undertaken.

Facilities

The new five-storey building was needed to consolidate the department from five buildings into one purpose-built, specialised research facility.

It contains a mix of laboratories for processing of metals, materials chemistry and the development of medical materials, plus teaching space, support facilities, offices and social areas over a 10,600m2 footprint.

"This was a complex project that had to accommodate activities ranging from very sensitive nano science to heavy duty experiments generating vibration. This was a tremendous challenge, which makes the sense of achievement all the greater."

Professor Lindsay Greer, Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy

Design challenges

The design methodology was structured to engage 25 different user groups, ensuring an optimum building layout for university staff and students, and determining equipment requirements.

BIM (Building Information Modelling) was used to plan the different areas and functions.

With input from specialist acoustic and vibration consultants Colin Gordon Associates, it was decided that the intensively engineered electron microscope suite would have to be a standalone building linked to the main facilities. It is situated in the south west corner of the site, furthest from the vibration-inducing roads, and is structurally separate from, but linked to, the main departmental building.

Concrete ground bearing slab

BIM modelling showed that a 2m-thick reinforced concrete ground bearing slab was the best way to minimise site vibrations. To validate the model, a test raft foundation 7m x 7m x 2m thick was constructed.

The exercise helped Willmott Dixon achieve the brief under the project’s two-stage design and build contract, and provided cost and delivery certainty. The test slab was later used as the base for the tower crane.

Constructing the raft foundation was still a major challenge. To ensure the slab had no cracks, the entire 1,350m3 concrete slab was constructed as a single continuous pour over a 24-hour period. The process involved five cranes and a queue of 200 concrete trucks on the adjacent M11.

At handover, tests showed that the scheme’s vibration performance met exactly the specific requirements of the microscopes.

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