As Kansas University associate engineering dean Glen Marotz gives a tour of the school’s new $23.6 million research building, he takes care to point out how every available dollar went into the new lab spaces.
The floors on the hallways are solid concrete, and the unpainted walls and support columns are the same gray color. The ceiling isn’t tiled, exposing an array of pipes and electronic cables.
“We saved $70,000 by not putting in drop ceilings. We saved $55,000 by not tiling the floor,” Marotz said. “All that went right into the labs.”
Indeed, the labs are the focal point for the new 46,000-square-foot Measurement, Materials and Sustainable Environment Center (often abbreviated as M2SEC) just to the west of Eaton Hall.
“One of the goals is to make it look like an engineering building,” Marotz said. “The modern idea is to decorate as little as possible and have it function as much as possible.”
A large anechoic (echo-free) chamber in the building is not only soundproof, but also blocks out wireless signals. The space can be used to fine-tune the antennae on an unmanned aircraft used to measure the thickness of ice sheets in the Antarctic and Greenland.
Another lab focuses on fracture and fissure research, and features a “strong wall” area that’s constructed and supported separately from the rest of the building. Holes line the floors, walls and ceiling of the space, through which hoses can be connected to a hydraulic pump below. Those hoses are then connected to a device designed to test how much stress a certain type of material like a large concrete beam can take before it breaks.
“This is a perfect environment for people who like to break big things,” Marotz said.
Susan Williams, an associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, will have one of the labs in the new space. Her research focuses on finding alternative fuel production sources, and has led to the introduction of cooking oil as a means to fuel campus lawn mowers and other equipment.
Her current lab is a space in Burt Hall that’s very small, she said, compared to the new space in the M2SEC building.
The lab space in the new building includes an area to research fuel production, another area to test its chemical and physical properties, and an another area to burn the fuels in an engine, she said.
The exhaust from the fuel will be taken to yet another area where it can be tested for the kinds of emissions it is producing. All that took place in several areas of the engineering campus before, she said.
“What was not possible before, because of space and distance limitations, will now be possible for us and easy for us,” she said.
The building will officially open on Oct. 12, though many of the labs are already functional and some faculty members are already using the new spaces. It is funded by a $12.3 million federal grant that was awarded to KU using federal stimulus dollars, along with matching funds from the university and private donors.
The structure itself even serves as an experiment in different places, as several of its wall panels can be removed and replaced with different test materials. A meeting room on the first floor of the building is an exact replica of a meeting room on the second floor, so experiments can be conducted on window shades and other materials that may affect the temperature and other properties of the room.
The building isn’t designed for classrooms, and the only offices in the building will serve as the new home for KU’s Transportation Research Institute. The building does include a space for interaction with the general public. A space near the main entrance of the building will serve as an interactive presentation area to highlight some of the research that’s going on inside, Marotz said.
“If we’re designing a robot, you can run a robot,” he said.