Brockman Hall for Physics
RICE UNIVERSITY PROJECT
Because it’s often difficult to ascertain the complexity as well as similarities in projects, we would like to provide some detailed information about the project at Rice University. The timeframe of this project was managed during our team’s tenure with iOffice, a continued business partner whose product is facilities management software.
- Moving from multiple relocations/labs into a new facility
- Working with multiple Professors/teams and types of labs
- Working with varied types of equipment, some extremely delicate in nature such as microscope lenses, some with very heavy, complex types of equipment weighing six tons, some needing “life support” throughout the move which would take place on outside pathways on campus (which were covered with oak tree debris and other potential natural elements such as wind and humidity).
- Types of materials: biomedical, hazardous materials, chemicals, gasses, electrical, some equipment very old and delicate (cannot be replicated)
- Putting together a schedule based on lab milestone dates, experiment data timelines & integrating schedules and assigning lead project managers to manage the varied schedules and moves
- Logistics: Experiments were built in place inside old buildings requiring disassembly to relocate (some partial, some complete), removing interior and exterior building walls, building platforms, rigging, craning which involved construction crews and environmental crews on campus
Rice University constructed the Brockman Hall for Physics, which was designed by Architect Kieran Timberlake and Constructed by Linbeck Construction. Our commission was to relocate laboratories of various scientists throughout the campus from approximately eight buildings into the Brockman Hall for Physics. Various departments included all experimental, theoretical and applied physicists from departments of Physics and Astronomy and Electrical and Computer Engineering. The new environment set out to create an environment of collaboration and support research in atomic, molecular and optical physics; biophysics; condensed matter physics; nanoengineering and photonics. Components of the building basement included noise, vibration, temperature and humidity control.
The project originated due to the data return from the various buildings and experiments so sensitive that the traffic on the perimeter of the current campus affected the data that the scientist were receiving as well as environmental challenges such as humidity in this region. The facility’s design included vibration and noise controlled underground labs to support the work and meet the exacting requirements of the departments and also to consolidate the research with the applied physics thus benefitting the science community.
To relocate sixteen laboratories into the new facility without exposing them to any elements, preserving years of work building the experiments and data that was collected, minimizing downtime for scientists, relocating everything with no compromising damage and to manage this on time and within budget.
In particular the laser tables of two professors were of great concern. Professors Randy Hulet and Tom Killian were heavily involved in the design of the building as their labs risked negating data they had gathered over 10-12 years. The tables in their labs sit on pneumatic vibration isolation legs to assist with minimizing the vibrations on these experiments, which use lasers to split and cool atoms and have miles and miles of cables and equipment attached to them. The request was that we move these tables as intact as possible so they didn’t have to “rebuild” their experiments, which was most likely impossible.
Upon contacting the table manufacturer to gather information on the weight of the base tables (less experimental components on top and suspended from the ceiling) their response was “you can’t move these tables”. That wasn’t an option for our team. The commission was to move the tables with as little disassembly as possible and managing components like humidity, dust particles, and vibration – and the tables should not be tilted more than 15 degrees during the process. The vacuum equipment and optical elements would remain on the tables.
After spending time interviewing the professors and their departments, it was determined that these experiments had the following basic components:
- They were highly sensitive and delicate
- Immeasurable value
- They weighed somewhere between four to six tons
- They had to be moved from one building to another without compromising any aspect of the experiment
- We had to create a way to accomplish this which meant finding the right resources
- This had never been done before
Realizing there was a similarity in commission to what museums sometimes need to accomplish, we did some research and ultimately reached out to the museum preparator for the Houston Museum of Natural Science. They recommended a local company, TyArt, to assist with engineering and collaborating to relocate these tables. This company was acquired by Rice to join the team and to work with our relocation team to create a plan.
The final plan resulted in multiple vendors coming together along with the engineers of the building, facilities department and an extensive move team that coordinated and mitigated issues thoroughly before the move began. We purchased water tanks, filled them with water and tested the weight load of the internal overhead crane, which was incorporated into the building design to attach and lower the tables down into the basement through removable cement blocks to test the weight limit. We built “mobile homes” with lightweight materials with components that could be interchanged to accommodate the various lengths and widths of tables. These encasements had cut out windows so that we could monitor the experiments inside, and tubing to connect to power sources to support the vacuum systems, which needed to continually function during the move.
To prepare these tables, the lasers had to be removed and carefully crated for relocation, the experiments had to be disconnected at points where they had been attached to the ceilings of the building and between tables. Each of those cables had to be labeled and categorized, each piece of equipment in the room had to be accounted for on our equipment list along with pertinent data. The room temperatures had to be brought down to ambient temperature over time to negate humidity and condensation; multiple layers of clear film covered the tables, in case one might be compromised. The tables had to be strategically balanced and attached to the encasement, which then was transferred on to a pneumatic set of lifts with air bladders that were designed by one of our resources recommended by the museum.
Once the tables were ready to be relocated, the pathway had to be evaluated, swept free of acorns or anything that might cause vibration, trees overhead had to be evaluated and measured for clearance and of course, the Houston weather was a factor as well. One particular lab had to have a portion of the building exterior removed and a platform built so that the table could be located to the outside where it was then lifted with stabilizing bars and a crane located across the street to the pneumatic lifts that were placed on the street. We opted to push all these experiments through the campus to the new building eliminating the risks of tilting by loading them on to trucks and driving them.
Once inside the building the tables were again balanced by the stabilizers, connected to the overhead crane system and manually lowered one inch at a time down into the basement. During this time, the pneumatic lifts were taken down to the basement through an elevator system and placed on the floor at the exact point where the table would need to be balanced on the lift and then once secured; they were rolled into place in the new laboratory.
In one of my initial interviews with Professor Hulet, he calmly explained to me that he understood that this building (a $64 million project) had been built primarily for labs like his but if he wasn’t comfortable with the process, he wouldn’t relocate until he was comfortable with the plan. I came away from that conversation understanding that his life’s work was in my hands.
His lab with multiple tables and the largest, a 16 foot, six ton table was the last one to make it into the new building. Once the table was settled into place, Professor Hulet and his lab team went to retrieve several bottles of champagne that they had hidden in ice chests, poured us all a glass and he said: “Julie, I never thought this could be done, and I thought at a minimum, I would be down for two years. We will be back up and running within two weeks and I can’t thank you enough.” With tears in his eyes (and everybody else’s) we toasted to a successful project and new beginnings.
Professor Killian’s watchful eye
Lifting a smaller table
Attaching supports for the outer box to attach to the table
Aligning the table in the new lab
Lowering the table under the watchful eye of the professors and lead building engineer
A happy Hulet lab team