Millennium Science Complex: A (Not Quite) Three-Hour Tour
The first thing I noticed about the Millennium Science Complex—the new gigantic (275,000 square feet), state-of-the-art building between Pollock Halls and the Eisenhower Auditorium parking garage—was the beautiful landscaping in the building’s northwest corner. My husband and I bicycled past a couple of weeks ago, and we stopped to admire the ferns and flowers nestled under what we called an “open spot” in the building’s roof.
Turns out, those ferns and flowers are far more than decoration.
On The Penn Stater’s tour of the building Thursday afternoon, senior project manager Dick Tennant explained that below the landscaping were the “quiet rooms,” laboratories with highly sensitive electron microscopes that need to be protected from noise and, primarily, vibrations.
So those labs were placed as far as possible from Bigler and Pollock Roads, which are heavily used by rumbling buses, and the garden atop the area ensures that cars or bicycles or skateboards won’t be sending vibrations below. (You can walk there; the paths are lined with circular pebbles to cushion your footsteps.)
And that “open spot” in the roof, as my husband and I had called it? The building is actually cantilevered—at 150 feet, it’s exceptionally large—so that there is no occupied space above the quiet labs. Again, it’s designed to give the electron microscopes the best possible environment in which to function.
The building has two wings, one for the Materials Research Institute, one for the Huck Institutes for the Life Sciences. The idea in putting all of those researchers together is to facilitate closer cooperation between the departments. We’re still looking into examples of that, but this is the idea: The life sciences people figure out how to target specific parts of the body with chemotherapy, and the materials science people figure out how to deliver it.
Which doesn’t, Tennant said, mean that the two sides of the building will be similar. Tennant laughed about their “different personalities” and pointed out the signage as an example. On the life sciences side, room labels say, for example, “alcove.” On the materials science side, you get stuff like “Ultrafast Nonlinear Optical Characterization & Biphonics.”
The researchers will have plenty of ways to get to know each other. The café, lounge areas, and mailrooms are placed in the middle of the two wings, so if you sit down and enjoy your lunch while looking out at the view of Mount Nittany, you might well be sitting next to someone you otherwise never would have met. (The researchers are currently scattered across campus.)
The building, designed by Rafael Viñoly (who also did the IST Building that crosses over Atherton Street), has a lot of cool features. Green roofs (covered with beautiful succulent plants) that will enable the building to use less energy for heating and cooling. A water capture system on the roof that will pipe rainwater for those plants. Rooms lined with steel or aluminum for maximum safety—those walls can keep, say, fire from spreading.
The Office of Physical Plant hopes to turn over the keys to the actual occupants shortly. When researchers are able to move in depends on the state of their experiments; some simply aren’t able to be moved right now. It’ll be interesting to see what comes from their collaborations.
And one other cool note: The building’s “front lawn,” on the corner of Pollock and Bigler, was landscaped so that it can be used by anyone looking to toss around a football or a Frisbee. Once the grass grows in, that is.
Lori Shontz, senior editor
Entry filed under: College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, Eberly College of Science, Faculty research, University Park campus. Tags: Dick Tennant, faculty research, hard hats, IST Building, Millennium Science Complex, Rafael Vinoly Architects.