MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) has released an unheard of (as far as I’m concerned) two announcements about a new building, MIT.nano. The shorter announcement mentions priorities (from an April 30, 2014 news item on Azonano),
“If you have your hands on the right tools,” says MIT President L. Rafael Reif, “we believe even big problems have answers.” And, he adds, “A state-of-the-art nano facility is the highest priority for MIT, because nanoscience and nanotechnology are omnipresent in innovation today.”
The longer announcement (from an April 30,2014 news item on Azonano) gives more details about the proposed building,
MIT.nano will house two interconnected floors of cleanroom laboratories containing fabrication spaces and materials growth laboratories, greatly expanding the Institute’s capacity for research involving components that are measured in billionths of a meter — a scale at which cleanliness is paramount, as even a single speck of dust vastly exceeds the nanoscale. The building will also include the “quietest” space on campus — a floor optimized for low vibration and minimal electromagnetic interference, dedicated to advanced imaging technologies — and a floor of teaching laboratory space. Finally, the facility will feature an innovative teaching and research space, known as a Computer-Aided Visualization Environment (CAVE), allowing high-resolution views of nanoscale features.
The longer announcement made in this April 30, 2014 MIT news release which provides more details about the building, the thinking that went into its location, and its special requirements,
The four-level MIT.nano will replace the existing Building 12, and will retain its number, occupying a space alongside the iconic Great Dome. It will be interconnected with neighboring buildings, and accessible from MIT’s Infinite Corridor — meaning, Bulović [electrical engineering professor Vladimir Bulović] says, that the new facility will be just a short walk from the numerous departments that will use its tools.
Users of the new facility, he adds, are expected to come from more than 150 research groups at MIT. They will include, for example, scientists who are working on methods to “print” parts of human organs for transplantation; who are creating superhydrophobic surfaces to boost power-plant efficiency; who work with nanofluids to design new means of locomotion for machines, or new methods for purifying water; who aim to transform the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals; and who are using nanotechnology to reduce the carbon footprint of concrete, the world’s most ubiquitous building material.
Cleanroom facilities, by their nature, are among the most energy-intensive buildings to operate: Enormous air-handling machinery is needed to keep their air filtered to an extraordinarily high standard. Travis Wanat, the senior project manager at MIT who is overseeing the MIT.nano project, explains that while ventilation systems for ordinary offices or classrooms are designed to exchange the air two to six times per hour, cleanroom ventilation typically requires a full exchange 250 times an hour. The fans and filters necessary to handle this volume of air require an entire dedicated floor above each floor of cleanrooms in MIT.nano.
But MIT.nano will incorporate many energy-saving features: Richard Amster, director of campus engineering and construction, has partnered with Julie Newman, MIT’s director of sustainability. Together, they are working within MIT, as well as with the design and contracting teams, “to develop the most efficient building possible for cleanroom research and imaging,” Amster says.
Toward that end, MIT.nano will use heat-recovery systems on the building’s exhaust vents. The building will also be able to sense the local cleanroom environment and adjust the need for air exchange, dramatically reducing MIT.nano’s energy consumption. Dozens of other features aim to improve the building’s efficiency and sustainability.
Despite MIT.nano’s central location, the floor devoted to advanced imaging technology will have “more quiet space than anywhere on campus,” Bulović says: The facility is situated as far as possible from the noise of city streets and subway and train lines that flank MIT’s campus.
Indeed, protection from these sources of noise and mechanical vibration dictated the building’s location, from among five campus sites that were considered. According to national standards on ambient vibration, Bulović says, parts of MIT.nano will rate two levels better than the standard typically used for such high-quality imaging spaces.
Another important goal of the building’s design — by Wilson Architects in Boston — is the creation of environments that foster interactions among users, including those from different disciplines. The building’s location at a major campus “crossroads,” its extensive use of glass walls that allow views into lab and cleanroom areas, and its soaring lobbies and other common areas are all intended to help foster such interactions.
“Nanoscale research is inherently interdisciplinary, and this building was designed to encourage collaboration,” Bulović says.
The choice of MIT.nano’s central location is not without compromise, Bulović says: There is very limited access to the construction site — only three access roads, each with limited headroom — so planning for the activities of construction and delivery vehicles, and for the demolition of the current Building 12 and construction of MIT.nano, will present a host of logistical challenges. “It’s like building a ship in a bottle,” Bulović says.
But addressing those challenges will ultimately be well worth it, he says, pointing out that an estimated one-quarter of MIT’s graduate students and 20 percent of its researchers will make use of the facility. The new building “signifies the centrality of nanotechnology and nanomanufacturing for the needs of the 21st century. It will be a key innovation hub for the campus.”
All current occupants of Building 12 will be relocated by June, when underground facilities work, to enable building construction, will commence; at that point, fences will be erected around the constriction zone. The existing Building 12 will be demolished in spring 2015 and construction of MIT.nano is slated to begin in summer 2015.
An April 25, 2014 news item on Nanowerk features an MIT researcher and research that seems ideally suited to this building initiative (Note: A link has been removed),
Skylar Tibbits … was constructing a massive museum installation with thousands of pieces when he had an epiphany. “Imagine yourself facing months on end assembling this thing, thinking there’s got to be a better way,” he says. A designer and architect, Tibbits was accustomed to modeling and fabricating his complex, architecturally sophisticated sculptures with computation. It suddenly struck him: “With all this information that was used to design the structure and communicate with fabrication machines, there’s got to be a way these parts can build themselves.”
This idea propelled Tibbits to enroll at MIT for dual master’s degrees in computer science, and design and computation — in pursuit of the idea, Tibbits says, “that you could program everything from bits, to atoms, and even large-scale structures.”
Today, Tibbits is breathing life into this vision. A research scientist in the Department of Architecture, and a TED2012 Senior Fellow, Tibbits has launched the Self-Assembly Lab at MIT, where like-minded engineers, scientists, designers, and architects transform commonplace materials into responsive, “smart” materials that can coalesce to form structures, all on their own. Deploying such novel techniques as 4-D printing in collaboration with Stratasys, a firm at the forefront of three-dimensional modeling, Tibbits is experimenting with new products and processes from nano to human scale. [emphasis mine]
An April 24, 2014 MIT news release expands on this “nano to human scale” research,
Although still in its infancy, Tibbits’s research might someday make a profound impact on building and construction. One project, called Logic Matter, encodes simple decision-making in a materials, using only that substance’s properties, shape, and geometry. Bricks, for instance, could be programmed to analyze their own loading conditions or orientation and might contain blueprints to build a wall or guide someone in the construction process. “We don’t have to change what we build with,” Tibbits says. “We take seemingly dumb materials and make them more responsive by combining them in elegant ways with geometry and activation energy.”
Natural processes — such as the replication of DNA, protein folding, and the growth of geometrically perfect crystals — inspired Tibbits. He knew these systems — which build complex structures extremely efficiently and can replicate and repair themselve — depend on a common formula: a simple sequence of instructions, programmable parts, energy, and some type of error correction. Mastering this recipe opens up a world of useful applications, Tibbits believes.
One illustrative project underway in Tibbits’s lab may lead to more resilient and efficient infrastructure. He is trying to program a type of peristalsis in water pipes, so they contract and relax like muscles. Unlike current pipes, which tend to break and require constant monitoring and energy input, Tibbits’s pipes can expand and shrink in response to changes in water volume, and could eventually undulate to abet flow. The goal is a “self-regulating system,” where pipes could even repair themselves in case of a puncture.
Self-assembling technologies may eventually help build space structures whose components deposit themselves in zero gravity environments without human intervention, and edifices that become more resilient in response to “noisy and potentially dangerous energies” from phenomena like earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis, Tibbits says. These ideas may seem hard to believe, but “there are structures we can’t build today” that demand new approaches, Tibbits says. “We must ask where self-assembly can solve some of the world’s biggest challenges.”
I can’t resist the image MIT has provided,
Skylar Tibbits’s fluid crystallization project: Self-assembly holds the promise of breakthroughs in many fields.
Photo: Len Rubenstein Courtesy: MIT
You can visit Tibbits’s MIT Self-Assembly Lab here.