Michigan State University’s $730M FRIB Project Ushers in New Era of Scientific Discovery
A Revolutionary Facility: Michigan State University’s FRIB Project Elevates Nuclear Physics Research to Unprecedented Levels
At Michigan State University (MSU) – home to the nation’s top-ranked nuclear physics graduate program according to U.S. News – efforts to complete a one-of-a-kind scientific facility supporting rare isotope experiments is nearing fruition. Backed by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science (DOE-SC), the university’s Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) has been constructed in phases since March 2014 and is slated to turn completely operational by 2022.
Design and construction of this $730 million project in East Lansing, Michigan, is being spearheaded by Barton Malow Company as the construction manager and SmithGroup as the design architect and engineer of record. The DOE is funding $635.5 million of the project, with the state of Michigan and MSU contributing the remaining balance.
Currently, the project team is working on two additions that will move the complex closer to becoming a full-fledged facility for rare isotope research. The first is a 15,300-square-foot Cryogenic Assembly Building (CAB) that will be used to facilitate cryogenic device research, which includes the development, assembly, testing and repair of FRIB beamline magnets and superconducting radio-frequency (SRF) cryomodules. Construction of the estimated $12.4 million space began in March 2018, and will be ready for occupancy in August.
The second addition is a High Rigidity Spectrometer and Isotope Harvesting Experimental Vault (HRS/IHV), a $22.4 million project with a construction timeline of March 2018 through November 2019. This 32,000-square-foot building will house two enormous magnets (700 metric tons and 900 metric tons) to extend the FRIB beamline and facilitate an additional type of experiment. In addition, its isotope harvesting area will be used to isolate products of FRIB science and analyze and their potential applications in various industries.
The majority of this article will focus on construction of the CAB, which will serve as a cryogenic piping fab shop and welding space and will be used to test and cool superconducting magnets. To understand the necessity of the CAB, let us first discuss the importance of FRIB.
FRIB: A Facility for Groundbreaking Science
Back in 2008, MSU beat out a national laboratory when it obtained the DOE-SC contract to host FRIB, which will attract top researchers from around the world seeking to conduct experiments in nuclear science, astrophysics, and applications of isotopes to other fields. FRIB will provide intense beams of rare isotopes – short-lived atomic nuclei not normally found on Earth – that will enable researchers to address questions such as: What is the origin of the elements we find in nature? Why do stars sometimes explode? What combinations of neutrons and protons can make an atomic nucleus? What are the new applications of isotopes that can better diagnose and cure disease?
As a DOE scientific user facility, FRIB will build on the successes of MSU’s National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory (NSCL), a nuclear science facility established in 1963 and supported by the National Science Foundation. Research performed at NSCL has led to important breakthroughs in medicine, materials research, national security and physics.
CAB: A Flexible Fabrication Space
The CAB is a steel-framed, rectangular structure featuring a large, open interior designed to support multiple functions, making the space flexible for current and future needs. It is strategically located adjacent to the existing SRF Highbay, a space used to test and certify SRF cavities and cryomodules before installing them in the FRIB’s underground tunnel, which houses a heavy-ion linear accelerator (LINAC) – the crowning jewel of the entire complex.
A 3,200-square-foot mezzanine floor spans the entire north half of the CAB, and will be used to store mechanical and electrical equipment. A 1-foot-thick concrete slab-on-grade provides a strong foundation to support the heavy loads trucked in through overhead doors located at the west and south sides of the facility.
“We actually poured the slab before we erected the steel, which is very uncommon,” says Jessica Kolp, MSU’s FRIB Construction Team Leader. “This helped to speed up the construction process, as we rolled the contractor from working on the main foundations straight to the concrete slab.”
The space contains a 50-ton overhead crane, providing more heavy-duty lifting power than the 40-ton models used in adjacent buildings. To bear the weight of the massive crane, the facility is sustained by 24 caissons drilled to a depth of 55 feet. This pier foundation is also vital to holding up the north side of the structure, which spans the existing steam tunnel.
Kolp adds, “The steam vault runs 18 feet out just south of that north building, which is where we normally would have put the columns. But due to the tunnel we had to create a cantilever system of steel.” The alternative support method involved cutting holes into the fully operational SRF Highbay, and connecting the new structure to the existing building’s columns.
Because sensitive experiments were taking place in structures adjacent to the CAB, construction crews had to closely monitor the vibrations produced while drilling the caissons. “Constant communication with MSU was critical throughout the entire process,” says Shelten Vieau, Senior Project Manager, Barton Malow. “We made our construction schedule available to the faculty before we started the work to make sure we didn’t negatively impact activities in occupied spaces.”
A Purposeful Design
The building’s exterior features brick on the lower half and a running bond of silver metal architectural paneling on the top half. The design blends with the facades of the surrounding buildings, making the free-standing structure appear connected to FRIB.
“The east facade is punctuated with a large aperture of translucent cladding material that brings natural light into the space during the daytime. At nighttime, the lighting from within the structure makes this aperture appear to glow, giving the building added character,” says Michael Krug, Project Architect, SmithGroup. He explains the design of the glowing aperture – which complements a similar architectural expression at the SRF Highbay – was inspired by the proscenium arch that frames the stage of a theatre located in an adjacent performing arts center.
The CAB’s interior design deliberately reflects the industrial function of the building, through elements like an exposed galvanized roof deck and exposed mechanical and electrical systems.
Krug adds, “The structural frame is rendered in a gun-metal gray color, incorporating bold green accents to highlight elements in the name of safety awareness, such as the bridge crane and mezzanine guardrails.”
Long-Term Cooperation and Commitment
Both SmithGroup and Barton Malow have been engaged in the FRIB project since 2010. The revolutionary science campus has earned several awards, most recently last fall, when Engineering News-Record (ENR) Midwest recognized it with an Award of Merit in the ENR 2018 Best Projects award program. Krug, Vieau and Kolp were among the attendees at the November 28th awards ceremony.
“As we stood on stage, Krug and I actually hugged because we’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished in creating these state-of-the-art facilities, and also in building a positive team atmosphere among the design and construction staff,” says Vieau, who has spent half of his career working on the FRIB project. “Many on the project team are from this area and we all want this to be the most successful piece of science that’s ever happened.”
According to Kolp, project delivery has been more streamlined and seamless thanks to both firms’ long-term commitment and cooperation.
Krug concurs, adding, “Considering the complex functions of these facilities, it’s been imperative that SmithGroup and Barton Malow have continued to be part of this project. Everything we’ve created is interrelated and we’ve developed a significant knowledge base that is critical to making the overall project successful.”
He continues, “For the team at SmithGroup, this project is important because it represents a commitment to making our clients’ lives better, designing a better future for them through the facilities we create. It also shows our commitment to building trust and respect with our build partners, like Barton Malow.”
There’s no doubt the amicable relations between the project partners has been key to producing MSU’s remarkable Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, a space offering unprecedented access to key regions of the nuclear chart – and ushering in a new era of scientific discovery.