New laboratories for world-renowned science

April 9, 2012

JILA, a joint institute of the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology that has produced three Nobel Prize winners since 2001, has opened a new wing with advanced laboratories for its world-renowned science.

“With the laboratory environment so much better controlled -- and I'm talking about vibrations, room temperature, electromagnetic noise, more stable cooling water and power, everything -- our researchers can concentrate on what really matters, the experiments themselves,” said Nobel laureate Eric Cornell, chair of JILA. “Everything we could do in the old labs, we’ll be able to do a little, maybe a lot, better in the new labs.”

The new six-story wing of the joint institute located on the CU-Boulder campus will add 56,065 gross square feet including laboratory space in the basement and first floor. Because highly precise laser experiments require a highly stable environment, the basement laboratories are built on special 2-foot-thick concrete that transmits less vibration than regular concrete. In addition, each of these labs has access to a special hallway with completely separate spring-loaded flooring where pumps and other mechanical equipment can operate without disturbing experiments in the laboratory.

NIST contributed $22.5 million and CU-Boulder contributed $10.2 million to the $32.7 million project. CU’s portion came from dollars from indirect cost recovery or other sources restricted to research facilities.

“Our long-standing partnership with NIST has produced many of the world’s leading scientists in atomic, molecular and optical physics and 11 companies currently operating in Colorado,” said Stein Sture, CU-Boulder vice chancellor for research. “We’re excited that this expansion will enhance the research staff’s capacity to train graduate students to develop cutting-edge laser applications, nanoscale manipulation tools, and other technologies needed to keep U.S. industry at the forefront of science.”

In the latest U.S. News and World Report rankings, JILA and the CU-Boulder physics department are tied with MIT as the nation’s No. 1 graduate program in atomic, molecular and optical physics.

The growing number of JILA graduate students was another reason behind the need for more space. The number of graduate students at JILA in 2000, 69, has grown to 104 today, along with 57 postdoctoral researchers and 94 scientists and support staff.

JILA will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its founding this summer and the last previous expansion of its facilities opened during its 25th anniversary in 1987. With the new wing, JILA now totals 162,959 gross square feet.

“The new JILA wing will further strengthen the CU/NIST partnership that fosters innovation through research, new measurement tools, and training future generations of inventors and scientists,” said Tom O’Brian, chief of the Quantum Physics Division, the NIST part of JILA.