Building Momentum

The Natural Science and Engineering Research Laboratory
to be a Facility of Multiple Collaborations and Endless Possibilities

Shades of purple, green, and blue mingle with subtle tinges of orange and yellow that pierce the sky above The University of Texas at Dallas campus near Synergy Park Boulevard and Rutford Avenue.

These dazzling colors on the university's otherwise concrete and earth-tone landscape herald progress in a 24-month construction project.

And color is just the beginning.

Imagine all that UTD's new Natural Science and Engineering Research Laboratory (NSERL) represents… among them, a chance to solve science's greatest mysteries.

A Revolution in Research Design

Unlike anything on campus, the NSERL will be revolutionary in both form and function. From its use of heat-blocking concrete panels to the allocation of interior space to promote interdisciplinary collaborations, the structure stands without peer on campus.

"NSERL is the first building, to our knowledge, which incorporates large open lab space with specialty labs and linear equipment rooms. This design should provide a collaborative and functional environment for all kinds of scientists and engineers," said Dr. Bruce Gnade, a professor of electrical engineering and chemistry who serves as faculty liaison to the NSERL project.

Before the NSERL was conceptualized, UTD's reputation for introducing scientific breakthroughs had been well-established. Important discoveries – such as the NanoTech Institute's development of fuel-powered artificial muscles or Professor Juan Gonzalez's research on how bacteria communicate – that could lead to the development of mechanical soldiers capable of re-energizing in the field or lead to finding new ways to fight antibiotic-resistant infections.

The NSERL is a state-of-the-art, 192,000 square foot research facility set for completion in spring 2007. UTD will draw scientists from all over the world and from all disciplines to its first-class laboratories.

As the grand opening approaches in June 2007, many are naturally curious about the building's materials, functionality, layout, design and efficiency.

What Is It Made Of?

Tom Lund, resident construction project manager with the state's Office of Facilities Planning and Construction (OFPC), describes NSERL as a "green building" that's energy efficient and good to the environment.

"This is going to be a signature building in the state of Texas when it's completed. It's an extremely exciting design. A world-class research building wrapped in a world-class design," Lund said in 2005.

As one small example, Lund recently noted that "the roof systems [for ventilation and air management] are so important to the engineers that they wanted all the equipment to be visible, so the anodized stainless steel covering is perforated and corrugated to make it see-through."

Among the NSERL's outstanding features are the colorful shingles that cover 15 percent of the building's surface. Looking like snakeskin, the anodized stainless steel pieces overlap each other.

In a process that doesn't involve paints, pigments or dyes, the colors on the stainless steel shingles are produced by the play of light on an oxide layer, which reflects a stunning range of color. Additionally, the oxide layer provides a protective coating, increasing the shingles' resistance to corrosion, according to its British manufacturer, Rimex.

Fossilized limestone, imported from the Texas Hill Country, adds texture to the southeast corner of the building.

"The exterior wall systems are not simple. There's a certain level of complexity in this building design that you don't see in most projects," Lund said.

A customized glass curtain wall slopes upward four stories and spans nearly the entire width of the east side of the building. It is accompanied by a standing seam metal roof, which is segmented, curved, tiered, folded and bent.

The building's facade employs indentations, deep shadow boxes, cantilevered surfaces, undulations and facets running vertically and horizontally.

The building also is made up of:

    • 1,526 tons of steel reinforcement
    • 987 tons of precast concrete – each of the roughly 70 precast tubs weighs 28,000 lbs., or 14 tons
    • 12,653 yards of concrete weighing 25,126 tons
    • 853 tons of structural and miscellaneous steel
    • 22,000 Rimex anodized stainless steel shingles requiring 44,000 clips and 88,000 stainless steel screws
    • 10 miles of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) conduit
    • 36 miles of EMT conduit
    • 180 miles of copper wire

Who's getting in?

According to Gnade, research groups from Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Electrical Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, and Behavioral and Brain Sciences will have space in the new building.

Approximately one-third of NSERL's space is being reserved to help lure new faculty and researchers.

The Cleanroom will likely be one of the first research facilities to set up in NSERL.

Gnade said built-ins, such as office furniture and the open-plan cubicles, will be added after the building opens.

More specialized lab equipment will be determined by the individual faculty members moving into the building, he said.

The building will be wheelchair accessible.

Research groups that do not require wet laboratory space, such as computer science or fundamental mathematics, will not be allotted space, Gnade said.

What's inside?

The architects of the NSERL are Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects LLP (ZGF), the Design Architect, in association with PageSoutherlandPage (PSP), the Architect of Record. PSP describes the interior as consisting of "flexible, modular laboratory space for natural science and engineering studies, such as biology, bio-med research, physics, engineering mechanics, semiconductor studies and electrical engineering, as well as essential offices and support facilities.

"Class 1000 cleanroom facilities will be incorporated within the building, adding the flexibility to incorporate investigator mini-environments of higher integrity."

A cleanroom by definition has a controlled level of contamination that is specified by the number of particles per meter-cubed and by maximum particle size. To offer perspective, the world outside would be considered a Class 5,000,000 cleanroom.

In 2005, Gnade said that with the NSERL, "We are trying to break down any barriers that might exist because somebody is in one department versus another department."

Diverse laboratories will provide space for scientists and engineers ranging from synthetic chemists who require significant fume hood space to electrical engineers who require open labs for large pieces of equipment, he said.

At the back of each lab module there are support labs for small specialized equipment, as well as linear equipment rooms that run behind all labs and house equipment such as pumps, compressors and refrigerators in order to avoid taking up prime lab space.

The main laboratories possess large windows that over look the collaborative open work stations, allowing researchers outside the labs to "observe experiments in progress," Gnade said.

NSERL will also have large multimedia conference rooms.

All Systems Go!

Safety, security and ventilation systems are installed in the NSERL.

According to Lund, the building has electrical, fire alarm, and telecommunications systems as well as special exhaust and drain systems and gas piping and plumbing systems.

Entrance to the building will require card-key access.

"Individual laboratories will have a second level of card-key access. Some areas, such as specific areas of the cleanroom, may even require a third level of approval.

"However, the building does not have areas designated to carry out classified research, so security clearances are not required," Gnade said.

"Cameras will be placed throughout the building so movements can be monitored. The building has fire and hazard safety systems that meet all of the current code requirements. We have worked with the Environmental Health and Safety to ensure the building will provide a safe working environment," Gnade said.

Special equipment installed in the basement includes high resolution electron microscopes that require very low vibration and low electromagnetic fields. There also is space reserved for a group of magnetic resonance imaging tools that require shielding.

Office areas are carpeted while the labs have vinyl tile. Patterns in the flooring add color to the labs.

Lund said the quality of the installation "has been outstanding. All of the trades, from electrical to plumbing, are doing a great job making sure we have an outstanding building."

Updated: 2012-11-21