UW Today

September 12, 2012

UW celebrates opening of new Molecular Engineering & Sciences Building

News and Information

After five years in the planning and construction, the University of Washington this fall opens its new Molecular Engineering & Sciences Building, one of the first facilities in the country dedicated to an emerging area of research.

“We are thrilled to make the UW and Pacific Northwest region a leader in molecular engineering and science,” said Matt O’Donnell, dean of the College of Engineering. “This facility is a major step forward that will encourage collaborative, cutting-edge research in biotech and clean tech.”

The Molecular Engineering & Sciences Institute will oversee activities in the building and work with affiliated researchers on and off campus.

“We will bring together faculty and provide a common, interdisciplinary space for research to address major societal challenges,” said director Patrick Stayton, a UW professor of bioengineering.

The institute will hold an all-day symposium next Tuesday (Sept. 18) followed by a building tour and opening celebration. Admission for the talks is free but registration is required.

The institute’s major themes will be clean energy and biotechnology. It will work with research partners, private companies and the UW’s Center for Commercialization to transition research findings into applications.

Molecular Engineering & Sciences Building

The UW’s new Molecular Engineering & Sciences Building.Ben Benschneider / ZGF Architects

The five-story, 90,300-square-foot structure is near the west entrance to campus, at the corner of Grant Lane and Stevens Way. The $77 million building was completed this summer after about three years of construction. (See slide shows of the building’s construction by John Stamets, a UW lecturer in architecture.)

Each of the four above-ground floors is divided into a laboratory half, facing Stevens Way, and an office half, facing the center of campus. A glass partition separates the two to provide a safety feature while connecting the two spaces.

“Scientists spend a lot of time in the lab. The UW faculty wanted to look at how we could make that a nicer place to be,” said Tim Williams, project architect at Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects.

Molecular Engineering & Sciences Building

The new building’s west-facing entrance on Stevens Way.Ben Benschneider / ZGF Architects

The building’s basement is a 28,000-square-foot low-vibration lab space, providing a “machine shop for molecular engineering.” It holds equipment to study molecules and molecular assemblies being designed on the upper floors. Basement labs house a mix of existing and new equipment that will be available to researchers inside and outside the UW. The university’s Nanotech User Facility, Center for Nanotechnology, the Analytical Biopharmacy Core and the NESAC/BIO center for biomedical surface analysis are all now located in the basement of the new building.

The site was chosen partly because the natural vibration and electromagnetic interference are low. The building features aluminum-plate shielding to guard against electromagnetic waves, allowing very sensitive measurements using electron beams and high-powered laser light.

The new building focuses on emerging engineering techniques. In the past, engineers mainly designed larger-scale objects, such as bridges, airplanes and microchips. Now fields like materials science, chemistry and drug development are moving from a process of discovery to a process of design. Advances in nanotechnology, synthetic biology and self-assembly are letting researchers design and build proteins and other molecules to do specific tasks, such as travel to particular areas of the body, or capture and store energy from the sun.

The building architects are pursuing a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, Gold certification for sustainable features that include:

  • Natural ventilation in office spaces provided by windows that open, electronically controlled ceiling fans and two chimneys on each floor that draw hot air up and out. This is the first UW lab building with offices that use natural ventilation instead of mechanical air conditioning.
  • Walls and ceilings containing packets of vegetable-oil based gel that melts at 73 degrees F, absorbing heat on hot days and releasing that heat at night as they solidify. The architectural firm used this gel for the first time and is measuring its performance.
  • Two rain gardens to control storm water, a first on the UW campus, and three rooftop gardens that absorb and filter storm water and moderate building temperatures.
  • Optimized ventilation in the lab spaces, replacing air six times per hour rather than 10 times an hour.

The layout is designed to be flexible, with modular desks and lab spaces. Inaugural occupants include the research groups of Stayton and Suzie Pun, a bioengineering associate professor, on the third floor; David Baker, a biochemistry professor, on the fourth floor; and Daniel Gamelin, a chemistry professor, Hugh Hillhouse, a chemical engineering professor, and Christine Luscombe, an associate professor of materials science and engineering, in a shared energy research lab on the first floor.

The building was paid for with $5 million in state funding for the initial design and planning phases. The remainder was funded through a bond that will be repaid through a combination of tuition building fees and research grant money.

René Overney, professor of chemical engineering, is the education director for the institute. The institute currently offers an undergraduate track in nanoscience and molecular engineering and a joint nanotechnology doctorate, and is establishing a new graduate degree program focused on molecular engineering.

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For more information, contact Stayton at 206-685-8148 or stayton@uw.edu. Contact ZGF Architects through Erin Zangari, 206-521-3503, erin.zangari@zgf.com. For building information or tours, contact building coordinator Christopher Adams at 206-616-6627 or adamscm@uw.edu.

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