WG Chair Ahmad Soueid Talks about IEST-RP-NANO200

'Before this RP, there was not really
a design guide for nano facilities.'

When IEST’s Nanotechnology Working Group (WG) first convened, the team took on the challenge to develop a roadmap for owners, scientists, architects, engineers, and constructors participating in nanotechnology facility design. WG Chair Ahmad Soueid, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, HDR Architecture Senior Vice President, led the effort to develop the newly published overview document IEST-RP-NANO200, Planning of Nanoscale Science and Technology Facilities: Guidelines for Design, Construction, and Start-up. Drawing on industry lessons learned, this Recommended Practice (RP) provides the requisite due diligence to achieve ideal environments and also plan for tomorrow’s research requirements. Here we talk to Ahmad about this groundbreaking standard and its implications across disciplines.

What do you consider significant about this RP? How does it fill an industry need?
Soueid: At this point, nanotechnology is well established and now in its second decade. The field is wide, as it touches a lot of disciplines and research from areas that normally aren’t working together—electronics, biology, chemistry, and people who work in organic matter. By definition, it is an interdisciplinary approach to solving problems. In general, nature has had nano inherently built into biology and the real world. What we are trying to do is learn from nature in trying to build structures that would behave differently than what we are used to building.

In the past 10 or so years, tools have been invented to support research at the nano scale. These tools and their environmental requirements are what drive the design of the facility. From vibration and acoustics to temperature and humidity control and electromagnetic interference—all these environmental considerations need to be considered during the design of the facility. At the atomic level, any one of these environmental parameters–when excessive– can destroy research or provide the wrong assumption or results.
'This document is written for people who
start a design project and don’t know
what they are getting themselves into.'
I’ve been involved with 30-plus different nanotech centers, and each one is unique. The solution is never a cookie cutter approach, because of the diverse nature of facilities. Before this RP, we didn’t have documented standards, other than what was addressed in conferences and workshops and some information on the web. Before this RP, there was not really a design guide for nano facilities. This is the first such document, and it’s IEST in its strong suit, developing recommended practices to incorporate in the design and construction of nano facilities. This overarching guidance will be the first of a series of more technical IEST documents addressing safety, vibration, acoustic, and electromagnetics in these facilities.

Who is the audience?
Soueid: This document is written for people who start a design project and don’t know what they are getting themselves into. For a research-focused owner, architect, contractor, engineer, or head of facilities at a university or national lab, this RP provides a framework of who all the players need to be. This document also benefits researchers. For example, researchers working with a malfunctioning electron microscope will be able to review the RP for certain criteria, such as space requirements. This protocol states that you don’t place sensitive instruments on the upper level on a high rise, because it isn’t a stable environment.

With this RP, we didn’t set out to create a document for solutions, because the solutions are unlimited. We wanted to identify potential pitfalls and give some of the questions that need to be addressed along the way. Instead of a cookbook, we wanted to provide all the different philosophies for building these environments.

How does the RP help clarify methods or practices for those who might not know what to expect?
Soueid: We explained the hurdles one has to cross when designing nano environments. We looked at the latest tools and requirements and suggested how to incorporate them. There are conflicting needs for these types of facilities. A room controlled to a certain temperature is counter to having a quiet space, from an acoustics or vibration perspective. This document will help provide tricks of the trade to achieve that balance, and it will also help prevent spending more funds than necessary. At the end of the day, one key takeaway is that there is no perfect solution. It’s important to balance needs and try to find a happy medium that deals with conflict and negotiates the right requirements from different perspectives.

To that aim, we recruited a superb panel of experts in this field to develop NANO200. The WG was composed of architects, engineers, specialty consultants in vibration, acoustics, EMI and RFI in addition to equipment manufacturers, facility managers, maintenance professionals, and research and development staff. Similar to nanotechnology research, this true interdisciplinary collaboration contributed to the intellectual richness of NANO200. Personally, I had great pleasure in collaborating and learning from my WG partners.

What role will this document play in the international arena?
Soueid: Nanotechnology is a huge field, not only from a discipline perspective. There is a lot of bridging and collaboration between institutions and countries. The idea is that the more people who collaborate, the better the outcome. While the field is global, the nano circle is very small—it’s really a circle of friends. There is a lot of sharing of information. “The world is flat” is really true in this case, because it is a community that doesn’t see country borders as significant.

Countries address research with varying approaches and levels of investment. If you look at American investment, there is a lot in basic research and funding focused on long-term return on investment. Other countries tend to be focused more on the short term. There may be more focus on turning a product around in a five-year timeframe, as opposed to in this country, where a cancer treatment may not surface for 10 years.

The US Department of Energy is making a lot of investment into basic research areas, with five nano centers built in the past decade. From my perspective, there is more focus on basic research in the US than in other countries—though Japan, Germany and the UK are making similar types of investments. In the US, we are not limited to trying to find product that goes to market next week. We are looking at the long term. This particular standard helps whoever looks at the crystal ball in trying to determine future facility needs for the long term. What we need to do is build facilities to accommodate future needs.