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QNC Construction: An Inside Look

Note: This article is hosted here for archival purposes only. It does not necessarily represent the values of the Iron Warrior or Waterloo Engineering Society in the present day.

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It seems, even though the Quantum Nano Centre (QNC) has been under construction for years, we never hear much about what is actually in it and what to expect when it will finally be complete. The tall, glass building replacing the Biology 2 Green looks impressive, but it’s hard to see what kind of rooms and features are being finished on the inside. The Iron Warrior has been fortunate to get a tour recently to measure progress on its construction and to take a look at some of the features that made it past the planning stages.

It’s clear, even from the entrance, that the two tenants of the QNC, the Institute of Quantum Computing (IQC) and the Waterloo Institute of Nanotechnology (WIN), are two separate parts of one whole. On one side, hereafter referred to as the quantum tower, you can see the more square-like features of the IQC offices, while on the other side, hereafter referred to as the nano tower, you can see the huge windows for the nano cleanrooms. The cleanrooms may not be as viewable from the outside after construction as they were during the tour.

The central atrium goes up to the top public floors and will most likely have glass where there aren’t stairs in the same vein as Engineering 5. The stairs are interesting because they go half a level down, turn right or left, and then continue to the level below, giving them an appearance as if they’re suspended. On the sides of some of the floors, there are open spaces or “mind spaces” where people can lounge or have meetings. One floor has a library or reading room (depending on what the final plan is) which would be helpful since most technical texts are located in the Davis Centre. Both sides of the building have green spaces which could be used for outdoor seating or as a garden, similar to what you would find in Engineering 5. To get into the building, there are entrances at the bottom from Ring Road to the centre of campus, as well as overpasses to MC and Biology 2.

The nano tower has more of the interesting features, so most of this sneak peek is a little scarce on details about the quantum tower. For the most part, the quantum tower has offices lining the exterior, with meeting rooms near the atrium. The nano tower also has offices along the perimeter and research labs in the middle rooms for the third, fourth and fifth floors. The offices are, at the moment, designed to have top-to-bottom whiteboards on the walls, but this could possibly change by the time the building is complete. Contrary to what you’d expect from looking at the building from the outside, there aren’t nearly as many windows as there is glass on the building. The office windows are rather normal sized and, in a few offices, they approach the size of those found in the Dana Porter Library. Most rooms have good-sized windows though, and the mind spaces have huge windows to let in as much natural light as possible. The tops of the office walls are glass so that when you stand in the hallway, you see more than just the plain wall the whole way down. The research labs and offices will most likely be for graduate students and professors.

At the top of the quantum tower and the top two floors of the nano tower, there are service levels and the roof which has those distinctive white exhausts that you can see on the top of the building. This can let out air from the rest of the building to manage the temperature. The top floor of the quantum tower houses a large diesel generator that is used to make sure there is never a power failure as even a second or two of power loss during an experiment could throw off results. Visible in the service levels are diagonal beams which are placed that way due to how the building was constructed. The building is constructed uniquely in the sense that it’s built from the top down instead of from the bottom up, so each floor hangs securely from the one above it.

Of particular interest to undergraduate nano students is the second floor, which, in the nano tower, houses most of the classrooms and labs that undergrad nanos might use. One of the lecture halls is placed on this floor, directly on top of an identical one on the first floor. There isn’t any seating in them at this point, but it looks like they could seat around 150 people. There is also a cafeteria of sorts in the works, but it wasn’t clear where that would be at the time of the tour.

Poking out the side of the building on the second floor is an undergraduate sitting area with hexagonal designs on the windows. You can see this room from the outside if you walk around the garden near the construction zone boundary and look up near the MC overpass. From this room and others, you can see the outer walls of the centre and the distinctive hexagonal steel beams that are on the outside.

The hexagons play a role in the design of not only the sitting area windows and exterior, but also the nano tower interior, with at least one of the bathrooms having hexagonal bathroom tiles. It’s likely that when other areas are more complete, the hexagonal design will find its way into other parts of the building as well.

The quantum tower theme seems to be a bamboo-like vinyl, which, so far, has been shown in bathrooms and railings. If you look from the north side towards the QNC, you can see the windows sort of alternate between flat and angled. This feature is visible on the inside from the quantum tower which, in my opinion, looks really cool.

One of the more impressive features of the QNC is a multipurpose room on the mezzanine and ground floor levels which has a large, two-storey presentation area and two other rooms on the second storey that connect to the large room without walls. The room can go from one huge seminar room to three smaller rooms with the added ability for the projectors to go from projecting to each room separately to having all of them projecting to the large seminar room screen. The seats pull out of the wall to increase seating or to get more space. It’s very possible that this is where WIN will host their seminar series once the building is complete.

The mezzanine is mostly in the quantum tower, sitting underneath the ground floor as a sort of half-floor. It appears to be primarily used for observation decks. In most of the quantum labs in the underground concourse, there are observation decks overlooking them from the mezzanine in case someone wants to observe the experiment from above.

When leaving the mezzanine to go to the concourse, the ceiling gets higher where there are labs everywhere. There are more sensitive labs here with precise equipment that requires the stability gained from being closer to the ground. The metrology lab is located in the concourse as well, with extremely sensitive equipment that is partially the cause for the lengthy building time for the QNC. The metrology lab is physically separated from the rest of the building to prevent any extra vibrations, so some really sensitive experiments could be conducted here if needed.

There’s clearly much space here for researchers, including graduate students and professors. While it seems concerning that such a central building appears so focused on graduate and faculty space, there does seem to be a lot of room for undergraduates as well. As you may have noticed in the descriptions, the building incorporates some of the same concepts as Engineering 5; notably, the way space is allocated in the building and the choice of putting a huge, multi-level atrium in the entrance to give people a feeling of open space as they walk in. It’s hard to tell at this point in construction, but, based on the progress so far, it looks like there are some fairly impressive features in this building, which will look even more impressive once more of the cosmetic designs are complete on the interior. It’s hard to tell when it will be ready to open, but Winter or Spring 2012 seems to be the very earliest at this point.