Designing spaces for highly sensitive research equipment

Image: X-Ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy System at John de Later Centre, Curtin University, Perth

At Resonate the diversity of our work allows us to measure and mitigate noise and vibration at large infrastructure projects one day and advise developers at feasibility stage on new buildings, the next.

Some spaces need a little more refining and remediation than others depending on numerous factors including what the space will ultimately be used for.

My favourite projects are those that draw on our engineering skills across acoustics, vibration and electromagnetic fields (EMF).

One such niche we work in is for facilities that house highly sensitive research and medical equipment. These facilities are normally located at universities or health infrastructure facilities and may house state-of-the-art electron microscopes, equipment for nano-science, quantum computing, or medical imaging equipment such as MRI machines.

The electron microscope

Electron microscopes aren’t like the ones you may have used in high school biology. The electron microscope uses electrons to create an image of the target, for example cells, microorganisms and crystalline structures. It has much higher magnification than a normal light microscope, some occupy a whole room and they can be worth several millions of dollars.

The most advanced electron microscopes are capable of resolutions less than 0.1 nanometers or 1 ångström. For context the diameter of atomic silicon is 0.21 nanometers. But how does this relate to our everyday macroscopic world?

Well, it’s like focusing in on a 5c piece from 20km away…. in the dark.

What’s that got to do with Resonate Consultants?

At Resonate, we advise on building and rooms design which house these incredibly sensitive microscopes and have done so for most of the universities across Australia and several internationally.

Three major considerations when designing such a facility are the acoustic, vibration and EMF environment within the room housing sensitive equipment. Some microscopes are so sensitive that vibration levels 100 times lower than we can even feel can impact and distort the imaging.

For example, at one existing facility we attended microscopes can only be used on days when the wind isn’t blowing.

Another facility had a section of their car park barricaded off because the electromagnetic fields produced by vehicle movements caused interference.We’re usually brought in at feasibility stage to decide upon the best location for sensitive equipment and will monitor and assess differing areas based on mitigating noise, vibration and EMF.

Outside the building we’re looking for anything which will be generating vibration and EMF. For example, nearby mechanical plant, trains, trams, roads, car parks etc.

Inside, large moving pieces of metal such as elevators will generate EMF, as well as mains and power sources. Even people walking past the room in heavy foot traffic areas of a building can be an issue which could lead to sub-optimal use of this very expensive equipment.

Our advice

One of the most critical factors to consider when designing a new microscopy facility is the specific acoustic, vibration and EMF requirements that the equipment must meet. These will vary depending on the make of the microscope and will need to be met for the manufacturer to guarantee maximum performance.

However, it’s also critical to understand how the equipment will be used. If it won’t always be necessary for the criteria to be met at all times, then it may be possible to construct the facility more efficiently.

In terms of acoustics and vibration, the room will need to be separated from the building and all noise and vibration sources need to be very well isolated.

These rooms are typically located on the ground floor or basement level, to ensure maximum stability. Often, we suggest that the room is situated on a separate concrete slab that is vibration isolated from the rest of the building.

To deal with electromagnetic interference, the rooms might be shielded by a thin layer of a specific metal around the room or have an active electromagnetic field cancellation system installed.

So, if you’re in the business of building microscopy facilities, you need to ensure they, and the equipment, can operate full stop. Contact us to find out how we can help you with your next project.

Contact us to discuss your next project