The Singh Center is not your grandmother’s research lab. The $80-million nanotechnology center, located on the University of Pennsylvania campus, will appeal to science geeks and architecture fans alike. During the design stage, architects consulted with engineers to measure the precise specifications for the labs inside. During construction, the Dean of Engineering was often seen standing outside with a stopwatch, measuring the length of time that pedestrians spent admiring the exterior.
Nanotechnology is the process of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale. Researchers have used nanotechnology to improve everything from medicine to tennis balls, and the potential applications are endless.
The Singh Center houses laboratories for studying and engineering these very small structures. It is one of a few buildings in the country that boasts multiple electron microscopes, each performing a different and complementary function – an all-in-one nanotechnology wonderland.
The nucleus of the building is a small room that houses an extremely sensitive electron microscope, where engineers can study the movements of individual atoms under water. The entire structure was designed around the room’s precise coordinates. University Architect David Hollenberg told the Pennsylvania Gazette that the room is “the core out of which everything else spirals… if this were a Gothic cathedral, this is where the saint’s bones would be.”
The Singh Center distinguishes itself from other engineering buildings with its stunning and ultramodern design. The public face of the building is a transparent glass structure that allows passersby to peer inside. A cantilevered section that juts out the side creates an illusion of weightlessness that makes pedestrians below catch their breath.
Inside the building, extensive public spaces provide a place for scientists and students to study, relax or exchange notes. The Philadelphia Inquirer referred to the open terraces as “nightclub-like lounges.”
Overall, the Singh Center has an exuberant atmosphere, bringing the light from outdoors inside and displaying a glowing interior at night.
It was a pleasure to finally get an up-close view of this architectural marvel, and to learn about the daily miracles that occur inside. The Singh Center will change our idea of what a laboratory can look like, fitting for a field of study that is changing the way we interact with the world we live in.