‘Quietest’ building in the world opened

The University of Bristol has opened its Centre for Nanoscience and Quantum Information. This highly distinctive, £11 million building provides state-of-the-art specialised laboratories where vibration and acoustic noise levels are among the lowest ever achieved, despite being located in the centre of Bristol. High-quality materials have been used throughout this unique structure, which also encompasses several unusual scientific features in its architecture:

The curved Portuguese limestone on the main elevation is set out in the ‘Fibonacci Series’, a sequence of numbers first created by the Italian mathematician, Leonardo Fibonacci, in 1202. The number series has fascinated and perplexed mathematicians for over 800 years.

The atrium dome is shaped like a ‘bucky ball’, a molecular structure (resembling a football) composed entirely of carbon atoms that has the most astonishing properties. It was named after Richard Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller.
Self-cleaning glass has been installed which uses nano-particles to break down dirt that is then washed away by rainwater.

The basement houses the ‘low noise’ area with a suite of ultra-low vibration nanoscience laboratories that are anchored to the rock below.

The purpose-designed environment will house a multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary research community drawn from science, engineering and medicine across the world, encouraging innovation to thrive through stimulating interactions and the exchange of ideas.

Examples of research already on-going in the Centre include:

  • A novel material made of tiny diamonds that 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. The exceptional environment offered by the NSQI will allow experiments on this material to be undertaken at levels of precision surpassing that achieved in other laboratories around the world.
  • A cancerous cell has very different properties from a healthy cell, so by probing it with nano-tools information about its surface properties could be obtained, aiding those engaged in the fight against cancer.  Such tools may also be capable of modifying cells using a kind of nanosurgery. Collaborations are already under way with biomedical groups working on cardiac stem cells and neurons.
  • A primitive quantum computer that uses single particles of light (photons) whizzing through a silicon chip has just performed its first mathematical calculation. This is a major step forward in the quest to realise a super-powerful quantum computer.
  • The University’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Eric Thomas, will take ownership of the NSQI building today from the builders, Wilmott Dixon Construction.

Professor Thomas said: “Creating the NSQI Centre is a statement of intent that the University of Bristol is committed to attracting and retaining many of the world’s foremost researchers in Nanoscience and Quantum Information, ensuring that the south-west of England is well-placed to benefit from the resulting growth in technology, and reinforcing the University’s position as a leader of innovation in the UK.”

Neal Stephens, Managing Director for Willmott Dixon South West and Wales, explained: “Due to the stringent and exacting nature of nanoscience, the new facility had to meet the most detailed constraints for vibration and acoustics. An extremely controlled environment is paramount with almost zero vibration, acoustic and air movements.  The demands, therefore, for quality in construction and delivery were second-to-none.  We anticipate that this state-of-the-art facility will attract very considerable interest, not only from scientists but also those keen to learn more about the unique challenges faced by the construction team and the ways in which they were overcome.”

Capita Symonds provided project management services and the building was designed by the company’s architecture division, Capita Architecture. Iain Martin, Capita Architecture, said: “The NSQI is complex and beautiful, amalgamating both art and science in one harmonious composition. Although technically complex, it has exceeded expectations by becoming ‘the quietest building in the world’ in terms of vibration performance. For the scientists, it is a beautiful building for that reason alone!”

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