The Challenge for Architects: Electron Microscopes Belong on the Moon

Monday, April 23, 2:20 - 3:10 PM

Question: What laboratory device is the size of a Subaru Outback, weighs roughly 7,000 pounds, costs approximately $5.5 M, and requires an environment that is best achieved with gravity as its only ambient influence? Answer: a powerful electron microscope, a device that is at the leading edge of a new wave of breakthroughs in cell biology and cancer research.

Health-focused academic research centers in the United States are investing in the electron microscope in order to understand cell structures at the subatomic level to improve diagnostics and further clinical trials. However, designing and constructing a space that can house an electron microscope is a challenge that architects and medical research institutions across the country are currently navigating when planning highly technological research facilities.

The first step of siting an electron microscope is to perform a feasibility study that evaluates not only the spatial needs for the facility, but also measures ambient environmental influences that may prevent the tool from operating properly. Some of these environmental influencers include temperature, interfering waves, vibration, stable power and liquid nitrogen. Known to be among the most sensitive pieces of equipment used in labs, architects are challenged with designing spaces within existing labs to house these electron microscopes. Outfitting a facility for this technology requires deep coordination with the manufacturer, as the very stringent set of mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC requirements--coupled with room dimension and power outlet configurations—pose challenges for its placement. Any nearby vibration, change in atmosphere, or other outside influence can disrupt the performance and functioning of this expensive technology.

Through the use of the electron microscope, researchers can see and learn unlike ever before. It is important to appreciate the designing process of these spaces where researchers use these amazing instruments to advance scientific discovery. The role architects and designers are playing to support scientists who are transforming the understanding of cellular architecture and what triggers cancer and other diseases makes meeting this challenge all the more satisfying.

Attendees will:

  • Learn the steps of siting an electron microscope and the environmental influences that play a part in the process.
  • Explore design considerations around electron microscopy.
  • Explain the challenges and innovative solutions.
  • Explain the benefits of electron microscope.