A new home for collaboration: the Molecular Engineering Building prepares to open its doors

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Photo by Alex Ho for the The Daily

Featuring four floors of lab and office space specifically tailored for research needs, the new Molecular Engineering and Sciences building ended up expanding considerably on the original plans for reconstruction.

The building, home to the UW Molecular Engineering and Sciences Institute (MolES), will open its doors June 25.

The UW initially issued a bond to obtain a total of $78.5 million to fund the building. Construction began in fall 2009, at which point two and a half floors were planned to be left unfinished and completed at a later phase of construction. However, construction pricing fell as a result of the 2008 crash of the housing market, and the UW was able to save substantially. The College of Engineering then received a grant to fund the rest of the building.

"Within the budget we originally had, we have been able to add a considerable amount of scope," said Steve Tatge, project manager of the UW Capital Projects and general manager of the building process. "That's why it took longer. The budget was established at the end of 2007, so pricing estimates shifted considerably."

Because the construction of laboratories is dependent upon the work done within, many factors had to be considered. The placement and design of each lab space had to meet the lab's purpose. Skylights are strategically placed for each lab, and the site was chosen for its low-vibration statistics. Tatge said such features allow more sensitive research to be conducted.

There is also a room completely lined with aluminum to reduce electromagnetic interference for sensitive tests. The construction of such rooms required many tweaks, extending the building timeline. But safety permits were obtained in May, rendering the building open for furniture placement and move-ins.

Christine Luscombe, a professor of material science and engineering, will utilize such rooms with her research team. Luscombe contributed to the design of her lab so that it met her research needs.

Patrick Stayton, the director of the MolES, said he worked closely with architects and building program managers to help design an interactive and collaborative lab space.

"The idea is to have a dynamic space where researchers can rotate around in various labs," Stayton said. "The building is the new home, but the institute is bigger than the building."

According to Stayton, the UW is already a leader in interdisciplinary research. But with the addition of a new building specifically designed for collaboration, the university will be able to expand into even more new technologies.

"We're looking to expand our reach," Stayton said. "The new organizational space will help catalyze inter-departmental research."

This article was originally published in The Daily.