The MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge is dedicated to the understanding of important biological processes at the levels of atoms, molecules, cells and organisms, in order to deliver the knowledge needed to solve key problems in human health and disease. Accolades include revolutionary contributions to science such as the sequencing of DNA, and ten Nobel Prizes awarded for work carried out by LMB scientists. Many of its scientists have exploited their discoveries through technology transfer, generating over €389 million of commercial income to help support UK science. To facilitate the essential work that takes place at LMB, state-of-the-art facilities are at its core, in order to provide an unsurpassed environment for both young and established researchers from around the world. [caption id="attachment_34599" align="alignright" width="300"]MRC internal Interior of the LMB building[/caption]   In early 2013, the LMB moved into a new purpose-built building. Costing €250 million, paid for in part from the royalties derived from antibody-related work, the building provides first-class facilities to some of the world’s leading scientists. It is located in the hub of one of the largest and most internationally competitive concentrations of healthcare-related talent and enterprise in Europe – a key component in the development of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus. The building has space to accommodate around 600 people, including 440 scientists and 160 support staff. To help encourage the exchange of ideas and technical innovation, some 40 scientists from the University of Cambridge are based in the building, working alongside 360 scientists from the LMB. A further 40 workspaces have been set aside for temporary projects. The new LMB building is approximately twice the size of the original, providing around 27,000 m2 of workspace, divide across three main floors. Facilities include:

  • A containment suite;
  • Computing media;
  • Chemistry labs;
  • X-ray area;
  • Electron and optical microscopy;
  • Mass spectrometry;
  • Fermentation;
  • Stores;
  • Maintenance;
  • Lab management;
  • Mechanical, electrical and computing workshops;
  • ‘Free’ space for future expansion.

Light filled and energy-saving design

[caption id="attachment_34600" align="alignright" width="169"]LMC The LMB's design uses products designed to deal with the stresses of the laboratory environment[/caption] Although a building of this size can be intimidating, the space has been designed to encourage easy navigation, interaction and collaboration, with open, airy walkways, coffee-rooms and ‘breakout areas’ on each floor, plus a spacious staff restaurant and open-air terrace at roof level. Designed by RMJM architects, and built by BAM Construction, the overall structure of the building is reminiscent of paired chromosomes, with two long laboratory areas joined by a spacious atrium containing seminar rooms and a lecture theatre. There are many windows onto an atrium, which can be crossed at four points on each level allowing easy access and appreciation of the layout of the building. Glass-fronted lifts at either end give an overview of the entire 20m high space. Within the atrium, divisional offices and seminar rooms are positioned at the two central crossing points, where staircases also connect the floors and provide access to informal coffee areas at the interstitial level. In the main laboratory modules, windows into the labs make it easy to locate people from the corridor and create an open, airy environment. The ends of the atrium house a lecture theatre above the entrance, and at the opposite end the western stack comprising library, administrative offices and visual aids department. There is also a spacious restaurant on the southwest corner at roof level, complete with an external terrace to provide spectacular views out over the Gog-Magog hills and towards Trumpington. As the building is glass-clad, heat build-up is reduced by automatic venetian blinds, between the standard double-glazing and an outer glass skin. Other energy-saving features include heat-recovery wheels, which exchange energy between outgoing and incoming air, a ground source heat pump – the largest system ever installed in the UK – and automatic control of lights to reduce intensity when daylight is available. The main laboratories are in 1000m2 modules, each housing forty bench workers together with write-up spaces, group leader offices and local equipment rooms. The plan is semi-open, with walls separating pairs of bays from adjacent single-bay equipment areas. Write-up desks are separated from benches by a clean corridor, and are intermingled with group leader offices. Equipment rooms are separated from the laboratories by a main corridor, ensuring accessibility to all and promoting interactions between scientists.

Laboratory challenges

[caption id="attachment_34601" align="alignright" width="169"]LMC1 A press-fitting solution was selected for the 2016 upgrades[/caption] Integral to the LMB’s work, getting the laboratories right was a challenge, with inherent risks such as noise, vibration (a big issue for researchers working at micro level), contaminants, rapid environmental change and potential failure of air and electrical supplies taken into consideration. Vibration, in particular, was combated by housing heavy plant in a separate energy centres and four stainless steel-clad towers, linked to the main building. This approach has ensured weight and sources of vibration are kept away from the laboratory itself, allowing a more lightweight construction. Between the floors are full-height interstitial service voids (ISVs), which hold all the ductwork, pipes and services. These ISVs can be accessed directly for maintenance and modifications without entering the laboratory spaces themselves. This allows changes to be made rapidly and with minimal disruption, giving flexibility to meet the needs of the future and ensuring a long life for the building. An example of these changes was implemented in 2016, with new compressed air piping lines required to match an existing copper system. The original was fitted using silver soldered fittings, but in order to create a neater finish where pipework was exposed, Geberit Mapress, a press-fitting solution, was chosen for these upgrades. Apart from the neat finish, another key benefit of pressing for the laboratory environment was the fact it requires no hot works, reducing the risk of fire. The LMB had to remain occupied while the new compressed air lines were being installed, so soldering could have posed a risk to building users. Commissioning times with this product are reduced, further preventing disruption and downtime. Pressing is also a much cleaner process, essential where contamination must be avoided at all costs – no hazardous substances are used in jointing, either. Key to compressed air systems in particular, is the permanently high tightness of the pressing connection, combatting the problem of leaks, which waste energy and make equipment less efficient due to pressure drops in the system which in turn potentially increase maintenance costs. Compressors notoriously use more energy than any other type of plant equipment, with leaks par for the course in poorly installed and maintained systems. Pressing’s tight seal means air loss can be better prevented than in screwed pipework, making it an ideal choice, not to mention the fact that with Geberit Mapress, leaks are exposed during the pressure test to quickly identify any problems.

Fit for the future

With the LMB’s work so important to the health of humanity, it seems more than fitting that such as state-of-the-art building has been created for its scientists. And, with ongoing upgrades and additions an inevitability, built-in factors that facilitate its upkeep and development, using products designed to deal with the stresses of the laboratory environment, will ensure this good work is kept up for years to come. Author: David Palmer, industrial business development manager, Geberit Geberit manufactures and supplies Geberit Mapress, the UK’s leading press fit piping system that was used for the recent upgrades at the LMB. For more information, visit: click here for more information about the LMB.