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News Updates

20 Jan
Added By Sam Woolston

SDC is on the verge of completing a unique centrepiece building for the University of Cambridge that will help pioneer ‘blue sky’ research and industrial partnerships in the physical sciences.


Construction of the £26m Maxwell Centre, named after the eminent physicist James Clerk Maxwell, commenced in July 2014 and is expected to be completed in November 2015. The state-of-the-art facility will house 230 people across four floors, with lower ground floor laboratories accompanied by seminar rooms, interactive spaces and offices across the remainder of the building. The new venue will allow scientists from the research and development (R&D) industry to occupy laboratory and desk space alongside Cambridge-based study groups. It is hoped that this day-to-day liaison will lead to unique research opportunities and expose promising early career scientists to the challenges they are likely to face upon entering employment.  



With the end use of the building centred on creating scientific partnerships between academia and industry, a key aspect of the brief was to create a sociable internal environment that would encourage occupants to collaborate.  ‘The building will affect how we work together and promote the free-flow of ideas’, according to Sir Richard Friend, who will be the first Director of the Centre, so it is essential to ‘provide the right sort of meeting places for people to generate innovative research.’ As such, the building features large open plan office spaces, laboratories that can be altered to suit the demands of different sized projects, and numerous social areas. Striking examples of the latter can be seen through the inclusion of impressive meeting rooms that overlook the Cambridge skyline and a large south-facing terrace. In addition, the venue is set to house various Centres for Doctoral Training, each offering graduate programmes that will assist students in preparing for life outside of academe.


Complex Roof Geometry

The Maxwell Centre, which is an extension to the Physics of Medicine building on JJ Thomson Avenue, was constructed using a steel frame and pre-cast concrete floor planks above a ground bearing slab and piled foundations. The envelope comprises a combination of curtain walling, zinc cladding and timber soffits to complement the existing structure, while the building is topped with a zinc standing seam roof. Spanning from the height of the adjacent William Gates building to the north, the roof arches down to meet Physics of Medicine to the south while also lifting in the south-east corner to open the Maxwell Centre to views over Cambridge. Due to the complex geometry associated with this curved arrangement, the roof structure was modelled using BIM software to establish the most efficient design, before a sample panel was built on site to determine a suitable construction sequence.


Internally there is a dual ventilation strategy for the 5,000 sq. m space, with the laboratory areas being air conditioned and the ambient temperature of the upper floors maintained by natural ventilation. This has been made possible by the inclusion of a central atrium, which spans between the ground floor and an ETFE rooflight, to create a ‘stack effect’, although the natural ventilation strategy is supplemented by phase change materials and thermal mass from the concrete floor planks to prevent overheating. A BREEAM rating of Very Good was originally targeted by the client, but a score of Excellent is set to be achieved.


Future Research

Initial studies in the Centre will build upon innovative work currently being undertaken in Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, in which research since 2011 has been on how physics can be applied to renewable technologies in order to reduce the global strain on natural resources. Supported by the Winton Programme for the Physics of Sustainability, early investigations are likely to focus on whether the life of batteries can be revolutionised through the use of superconductive materials and how photosynthesis in deep-sea bacteria can enhance energy efficiency. David Harding, the founder of Winton Fund, explained that ‘while it is not quite as simple as using physics to save the world, this is an opportunity to use quantum physics to develop materials with seemingly miraculous properties that could combat the growing effect humans are having on the planet.’ However, many other facets of physics will also be fostered inside the new facility, such as advanced scientific computing and the theory of condensed matter. 


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