Best Practices in Educational Facilities Investments

Monash Centre for Electron Microscopy, Monash University, Victoria, Australia

Exemplary design categories: comfort, flexible learning settings, science laboratories

How the facility meets the needs of education and communities:
The MCEM is the only facility of its kind in Australia, with the most powerful FEG TEM microscope being one of only four globally and the only one outside North America. MCEM reveals how science can be given an immensely appealing human face that also meets the most stringent scientific standards. Much of the lab's scientific and educational processes occur through interaction and discussion, so it was important for design to facilitate and encourage this. Circulation is intentionally designed to promote crossing of paths; acknowledging that casual interaction and exchange of information is an important part of science. Physicists and PhD students use nine microscopes within darkened laboratories in the heart of the facility. Their work involves undertaking intense image analysis. Thus, the intention was to give them some relief from such visually tiring work by creating circulation and office spaces as light-filled, serene environments. Glass planks flank all the circulation paths, provide filtered light and a gentle connection with the activity outside the building. Externally, the façade allows passers-by to gain a sense of the movement and activity within the building without putting the students and scientists completely on display. The building has been successfully detailed to achieve an environment 100 times more stable than an operating theatre and quieter than a recording studio. The highest grade lab has achieved an ambient electromagnetic field of 0.05 mGauss - the lowest ever in Australia. Several facilities and departments of Monash University were involved in the planning of MCEM, including the Faculty of Science, Facilities and Services Division and the Vice Chancellor's Office.

Activity Areas: 9 laboratories for 8 electron microscopes and one atom probe; specimen preparation laboratories (microtoming lab, electro-polishing lab., general wet lab, clean workroom and dark room); office areas; computer classrooms; large meeting room and break-out area, with outdoor timber deck.

Project costs: AUD 14,000,000.00

Source: Submitted to OECD for "Designing for Education: Compendium of Exemplary Educational Facilities 2011" in 2010

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User perspectives (1)

Users find the main microscope laboratories to be a comfortable place to work which is important as a microscope session can be from two to eight hours or longer. Users also appreciate the specimen preparations laboratories which are well laid out, have excellent lighting and fittings and are a pleasure to use. The overall layout of the building works well. The administration area at the front of the building is separate to the main laboratory area. This allows the administrative activity of the Centre to be carried out without disrupting microscope users. The Tea Room/Meeting Room space has proved to be very flexible. It is a pleasant place for morning and afternoon tea and lunch with access to the deck and a view of the sky and trees (this is appreciated by people who have been working for some time in the completely enclosed microscope laboratories). The room can be quickly prepared for meetings and presentations by lowering the blinds and the projection screen. The main laboratory area also works very well with easy movement between the microscope laboratories and support laboratories such as the specimen preparation laboratories, dark room and the gas store. Offices on the mezzanine level are very agreeable work spaces with a good balance between separation from and interaction with the main laboratory area. The viewing spaces in the mezzanine level corridor assist with the feeling of integration between the office area and the main laboratory and allow ready communication between the mezzanine level and the atrium area. When staff need peace and quiet to work they can close their door but by leaving their door open they can keep an ear out for what is happening in the main laboratory. This is very helpful in a training environment. Overall it is a very satisfying building to work in, both for Centre staff and for microscope users and visitors.
Peter Miller, Facility Manager

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Drawings (2)

Site plan (Registration required)
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Credit: Architectus
Elevation and section (Registration required)
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Credit: Architectus