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'Quietest Building in the World' officially opens

7 September 2009

Bristol University’s Centre for Nanoscience and Quantum Information (NSQI) officially opens today.

Hailed as the 'Quietest Building in the World', the £11 million project provides state-of-the-art specialised laboratories where vibration and acoustic noise levels are among the lowest ever achieved, despite being located in Bristol city centre.

Capita Symonds provided project management services on the project which was designed by our architecture division – Capita Architecture.

The centre, which contains an anechoic chamber, two cleanrooms and wet, optical and low-vibration laboratories, will offer opportunities for the development of future computing, communications and health technologies, as well as advanced materials such as those used in the aerospace industry.

The basement houses the ‘low noise’ area with a suite of ultra-low vibration nanoscience laboratories which are anchored to the rock below. The building also benefits from access to techniques and imaging equipment, much of which has been developed in-house, which allow researchers to observe, understand, manipulate and characterise nanostructures and reactions, both chemical and biological, and to develop new synthesised materials.

It has a unique purpose-designed environment in which a multidisciplinary and inter-disciplinary research community drawn from science, engineering, and medicine can be fostered and thrive through stimulating interactions and the exchange of ideas. It provides a focus of expertise for leading scientists and engineers from the University, the UK and across the world, to work and interact.

Symbolism is used in the building form, elevations and atrium dome which is shaped as a ‘bucky ball’. The ‘bucky ball’ is so called because it resembles a geodesic sphere, a molecular structure made popular in the 1940s by American designer Richard Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller.

High quality materials have been used throughout including curved Portuguese limestone on the main elevation set out in the Fibonacci Series. Self-cleaning glass has also been installed which uses Nano particles to break down dirt which is then washed away by rainwater.

Iain Martin, Capita Architecture, says: “The NS&QI building is a beautiful and complex building amalgamating both art and science in a harmonious composition. It is technically complex and has exceeded expectations by becoming “the quietest building in the world” in terms of vibration performance. For the scientists the building is beautiful for this reason alone!”

The unique environment offered by the NSQI will allow experiments to be undertaken at levels of precision surpassing that achieved in other laboratories around the world. The laboratories are already being used to carry out some groundbreaking research:

  • Quantum Computing - A primitive quantum computer that uses single particles of light (photons) whizzing through a silicon chip has performed its first mathematical calculation. This is the first time a calculation has been performed on a photonic chip and is a major step towards harnessing the power of single particles of 'light' to perform processing tasks and, ultimately, the development of a super-powerful quantum computer.
  • Generating Green Electricity - A novel material made of tiny diamonds is set to create a new and ‘greener’ way of producing electricity. The material’s unique properties will enable the sun’s heat to be converted directly into electricity, enabling the development of new solar cell technology for applications in power generation (it is envisaged that this will do away with huge solar panels and replace them with something the size of a saucer).

In order to understand how the material is able to do this, state-of-the-art equipment has been installed in one of the NSQI ‘quiet’ laboratories. It can study the electronic properties of the material by looking at individual atoms. The research is being sponsored by the energy company E.ON, to the tune of £1million.