RICHLAND -- Stand still inside one of the laboratories at the new wing of the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory and you shouldn't hear anything but your own breathing.
By design, it's absolutely still -- no noise, no vibrations, not even a whisper of air from the ventilation system.
The 10,100-square-foot addition, dubbed the Quiet Wing, was built at a cost of about $7 million to provide a home for new research microscopes that can allow scientists to look at individual atoms.
Under normal laboratory conditions, the view through the microscopes could compare to watching sports through binoculars while jumping up and down, said Mark Hartzell, manager of the EMSL project office on the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory campus in Richland.
Lab officials realized as they started to acquire their first environmental transmission electron microscope that they didn't have the right environment for it at EMSL, Hartzell said. The microscope, which stands about 11 feet high, allows imaging within high temperature and gas environments to capture atomic-level processes as they occur.
"We looked deeper into the future and saw a whole new era of equipment with similar requirements," Hartzell said.
The Quiet Wing will be home to five different specialized research microscopes, each requiring a still environment to provide high-resolution images and keep them from drifting or sliding off the screen. More than $15 million has been budgeted for equipment, some of it paid for with federal economic stimulus money.
The new collection of microscopes will be used for fundamental science research, which should advance knowledge in fields such as catalysis, energy storage, subsurface science and biology.
The wing was built by Fowler General Construction of Richland at the southwest corner of EMSL, which was found to be the quietest place after looking at locations of parking lots, research in EMSL and where power is run into the building.
"It has three different layers of separation from EMSL," Hartzell said.
Not only is the wing separated from the main EMSL building to eliminate vibrations, noise and electromagnetics that could interfere with its microscopic imaging, but the wing also is built in two pods with a layer of foam separating the service and research areas.
In addition, each of the wing's eight rooms or "instrument cells" is built on a separate foundation about 8 inches from the next closest foundations. The walls and roofs of each cell are supported on isolated slabs.
The wing originally was planned to cover 8,500 square feet and have just six instrument cells, but cost savings in construction were used to expand the wing and provide more rooms for research.
Outside, the wing is surrounded by a swath of river rock to help keep lawnmowers that could cause noise and vibrations from operating too near the building.
Epoxy-coated rebar was used in the construction to prevent the metal from conducting electricity, and the electrical room was shielded to prevent electromagnetic interference. It also has plenty of sound-absorbing panels and materials.
The heating and ventilation system was designed to prevent the temperature from varying more than a half degree over 30 minutes. Air comes in from the ceiling slowly and is exhausted in the bottom corners of the room.
Because the air drops, there are no cross currents across the microscopes, said Scott Lea, capability lead for microscopy.
The wing's stillness is being tested with sensing equipment before microscopes are set up, and a few glitches have been found despite careful planning.
Some metal doors will be replaced with wooden doors because each time they were opened, their movement was detected as electromagnetic interference. And the lawn maintenance crews will be asked not to drive their equipment down a path near EMSL.
Work to move equipment into the wing began Nov. 1 and will continue into 2012, with research expected to begin as early as March.
Like all of EMSL, the Quiet Wing and its microscopes will be available at no cost to the scientific community for openly published research. EMSL, a Department of Energy national scientific user facility, attracts scientists from around the world to conduct research with its state-of-the-art equipment and in collaboration with its microscopy experts.