The Birck Nanotechnology Center is a large university facility located in Discovery Park on the campus of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. The facility was specifically designed for interdisciplinary collaborative research in nanotechnology, with cleanroom and laboratory areas purposely designed to support the specialized equipment necessary for this type of research.

Planning for the facility began in 2001 and the facility was considered fully operational in 2006. While this predated the NIOSH Prevention through Design initiative, the design concepts of the building are representative of PtD principles. The case study of the design of the Birck Nanotechnology Center facility (BNC) demonstrates the methodology necessary in designing a high-technology facility that integrates accident prevention into building design.

This paper will describe the general characteristics of the facility and its operation, the safety challenges inherent in this type of facility, and the motivating factors in adopting Prevention through Design principles. It will then explore the design methodology used to mitigate gas hazards through an in-depth analysis of the design features and their function.

The Birck Nanotechnology Center Facility

The Birck Nanotechnology Center is a 286,000 square foot1 The facility consists of two distinct areas. The office and laboratory area is a "B" rated occupancy containing offices, conference rooms, and laboratories. The laboratories are designed specifically for the type of research that is being supported – biological laboratories (BSL-1 and BSL-2+), deposition/epitaxy laboratories, laser/nanophotonics laboratories, surface-analysis laboratories, electron-microscopy laboratories, etc.

The 25,000 square foot BNC cleanroom, the Scifres Nanofabrication Laboratory, consists of a nanofabrication cleanroom joined to a 2,500 square foot pharmaceutical-grade cleanroom. Pass-through units allow materials to be passed between the cleanrooms without breaking cleanliness protocol. Personnel, however, must exit one cleanroom and re-gown in the appropriate cleanroom garments prior to entering the other cleanroom.2 The facility houses fifty faculty with either primary or secondary offices, and approximately 250 graduate students work in the facility. These faculty and students represent 35 schools and departments, creating a special challenge from an EH&S standpoint. Supporting the operation are an engineering staff of 25 people as well as 11 business and secretarial staff.

Another complexity related to EH&S is the diversity of the research. While many nanotechnology facilities concentrate on two or three major thrust areas, the BNC has eight.

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The 21,000 square feet of BNC laboratories are arranged as laboratory modules on an 11' x 22' grid, with the facility containing 88 modules in four wings. Each laboratory consists of one or more modules, with the largest laboratory being a seven-module lab. Utilities are run along the outside walls of the laboratories, and multiple-module laboratories have overhead service carriers on 11' centers. Each wing contains two rows of laboratories with an intervening service galley.

Research facility at Purdue University. Unlike traditional department-owned facilities – generally containing a mixture of classrooms and laboratories – this facility operates across department lines, housing researchers from 35 schools and departments. There are no classroom facilities in the building.

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