Ames Laboratory to build new research facility

Contacts:                                                            For release: Aug. 26, 2013
Tom Lograsso, Interim Ames Laboratory Director, 515-294-2770
Steve Carter, Facilities engineer, 515-294-7889
Kerry Gibson, Public Affairs, 515-294-1405

ImagePlans are being finalized for construction of a new Ames Laboratory research facility that will house current and next generation sensitive instruments such as electron and scanning probe microscopes. These instruments allow for detailed description of materials at the atomic level to aid in the discovery and design of novel materials. The nearly $10 million project is being funded through the DOE's Office of Science.

“This state-of-the-art facility will greatly enhance our capability to study and characterize materials at the atomic scale and in turn improve how we are able to support the DOE’s mission,” said Interim Ames Laboratory Director Tom Lograsso. “The quality and impact of Ames Laboratory scientific research has increased our visibility within the DOE and around the world. We see support for this facility as recognition of that hard work.”

Planning for the Sensitive Instrument Facility (SIF) has been in the works for about three years and included an in-depth site survey of five possible locations. The SIF will be built at the Applied Science Complex northwest of the Ames Lab/Iowa State University campus because this site offers "the lowest site vibration levels ever measured” by the consulting firm reviewing the sites. According to Ames Laboratory facilities engineer Steve Carter, the plans should be finalized this fall which will allow the project to be bid in early winter with construction tentatively slated to begin in April or May 2014. Construction is expected take 12-15 months to complete.

ImageThe 13,300 square-foot facility will be a straight-forward, rectangular-shaped building, but its rather plain exterior design belies the complexity of creating interior space isolated from vibration or electrical interference. It will have six bays to house sensitive instruments, such as electron microscopes used to reveal atoms and atomic structures. Working at such a small scale, even the slightest disturbance from vibration or electro-magnetic interference will blur the image.

“Isolation is key and we’ve tried to design it to accommodate the next generation of instruments,” Carter said. “We’re talking about instruments so sensitive that the operator will work from a separate control room because the beating of their heart or breathing will cause excess vibration. It’s a very unique and complex building.”

For example, the concrete floors will be approximately two feet thick with vibration dampening layers built in. Similarly, the walls and ceilings will be thick concrete and the instrument bays will be lined with quarter-inch-thick aluminum plate to help create an electro-magnetic barrier. Reinforcing bars in the concrete must be fiberglass, not steel. Likewise, the electrical conduit and even the fasteners used must be non-magnetic (non-ferrous). And the heating and ventilation system must keep the temperature and humidity constant without creating vibration or interference.

“There’s been good input from a lot of players, including the microscopy group and ISU Facilities Planning and Management staff,” Carter said. “And (facilities manager) Mark Grootveld deserves a lot of credit for guiding the overall project.”

The Sensitive Instrument Facility is the first new research facility to be built by the Ames Laboratory in more than 50 years. The last new construction was the Lab’s Technical and Administrative Services Facility, which was completed in 1993.

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit the Office of Science website at

Ames Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science national laboratory operated by Iowa State University. Ames Laboratory creates innovative materials, technologies and energy solutions. We use our expertise, unique capabilities and interdisciplinary collaborations to solve global problems.