Clean, quiet and consistent: Design approaches
for contemporary physics labs
Figure 1: The Sergey Frolov Lab at The Univ. of Pittsburgh. Image: © Wilson Architects, Photographer Anton Grassl | Esto
By: Joseph Gibbons, Associate,
Wilson Architects Inc.
Physics research facilities are equipment-driv- en, but can easily be
classified by the typology of
their environments. Traditionally, labs have been
defined through independent
performance criteria including clean-class, vibration
and sound. Contemporary
research includes equipment
specified to operate through
multiple specifications, and
often beyond the capabilities
of typical existing facilities.
Understanding these parameters and their impact on
research is paramount when
designing new environments.
The relationship between
these requirements often leads to
specialized spaces breaking from industry
norms and traditional design approaches.
Designing research spaces requires a balancing act between performance requirements and the environmental parameters.
This editorial attempts to clarify the parameters of contemporary research spaces,
while offering current design trends.
CLEANLINESS AND THE IMPORTANCE
OF AN UNPOLLUTED ENVIRONMENT
Cleanrooms have existed for over 50
years and are still necessary for a variety
of applications, including nanofabrica-tion and mass production. Contemporary
physics facilities, however, don’t require
the infrastructure typically found within
traditional cleanrooms, and should be
approached through clean, dust-free design
in lieu of the common methods associated
with ISO 14644-1 and US FED 209E cleanroom standards. The level of cleanliness
often found in a cleanroom is beyond the
general requirements for the tools used in
today’s research facilities, where samples
are typically enclosed in microenvironments or within the equipment itself. With
this said, a certain level of cleanliness is
required to minimize contamination and
maintain a controlled environment for
sample preparation and certain imaging
and optics applications.
• Remotely locate HEPA and ULPA
filters inline with mechanical ductwork. Filters located at diffuser terminations aren’t
easily changed without compromising the
integrity of the clean environment and, in
certain applications, may hinder acoustic
design techniques. Filters should ideally be
located beyond the clean zone where access
may be more readily available to building
facility maintenance services.
• Provide clean zones through pressure differentials in lieu of an entire
clean lab. The reduction in air movement
is beneficial to sound and vibration parameters, and the designation of smaller
clean zones allows for more efficient
• Incorporate vestibules and “booty-up”
protocols to minimize the introduction of
contaminants by users. Separate control areas and sample preparation spaces from the
experimental zone. This will minimize the
users’ interaction within the clean environment, while maximizing the duration of an
uninterrupted and unoccupied experimental area.
• Consider non-friable and easily clean-
able surfaces within labs. Limit the use of
acoustic ceiling tile, acoustic tack surface
wall panel, duct wrap and pipe insulation.
Removing friable material from environ-
ments with clean recirculation systems
ing-provided contaminates. Recommended
solutions include non-conductive, easily
cleanable surfaces and clean lab protocols.
SOUND MITIGATION AND THE
IMPORTANCE OF A QUIET ENVIRONMENT
Audible noise is an often-overlooked
origin of airborne vibration and, at times,
an indication of RF interference. Building
mechanical systems, electric transformers,
drivers and ballasts, vacuum pumps and
compressors are the typical sources, and
should be isolated acoustically from the
experiment itself. The separation of experimental equipment from the control station
will provide further isolation. Aside from
user’s contributions to noise contamination, certain equipment—such as the turbo
pumps located on a typical cryogen-free
refrigerator—will lead to hearing loss after
prolonged human exposure. Identifying
both contamination sources and quiet
zones is an important and early step in the
creation of a research environment. The
acoustical design should incorporate architectural mass, dampening, absorption and
isolation of multiple environments, with a
secondary focus on the treatment and mitigation of individual sources.
• The mass of a fully grouted and full-height concrete masonry unit partition is