Sustaining a Spirit of Inquiry

Brown University Labs and Prince Wind Tunnel
Providence, Rhode Island
“The mission of Brown University is to serve the community, the nation, and the world by discovering, communicating, and preserving knowledge and understanding in a spirit of free inquiry…”

Brown University sought to enhance its mission by taking its existing lab spaces, many of which were first constructed in the 60s, and guaranteeing them resiliency through time and adaptability within the ever-changing scientific world.

Through the advantage of having a Providence-based office, SMMA was able to maintain a close relationship with Brown and to engage its mission through a comprehensive interdisciplinary approach. The designs and renovations driving each project focused not only on fortifying and continuing the life of the existing structures, but also on nurturing the science behind the labs. Each lab space boasts of a unique legacy relating to Brown's professors and their research, of which SMMA promised to uphold.

Flexible Environments

One of SMMA’s most recent projects with Brown involved work on their Engineering and Research Center, a newly constructed building that accommodates both a Mass Spectrometry Lab and Laser Lab. By working with principal investigators and facilities management, the project has become the first phase of several fit-outs that will occur as new faculty are hired to occupy the building.

To keep up with new staff and coinciding research demands, the labs were designed as flexible environments; sinks could be pushed to the outside walls, ceilings were eliminated to allow easy access to utilities, and moveable lab casework on casters were fed from overhead service panels through plug and play utilities.

Brown University lab spaces and wind tunnel.
Brown University lab spaces and wind tunnel.

An Active Dialogue

With evolving spaces comes evolving ideas; windows were installed into each of the research labs providing views from the public corridor and common areas to encourage collaboration with faculty and students through workplace visibility. In their infancy, the School of Engineering labs already give life to a large spectrum of research, such as: fluid mechanics, interfacial phenomena, microfluidics, nonlinear systems, soil and groundwater remediation, engineering nanomaterial fate and transport, and environmental toxicology.


Taking Flight

Adjacent to the labs will be the Prince Wind Tunnel, a state-of-the-art structure serving as an advancement and relocation of an existing tunnel that allows researchers to improve aerodynamics through animal flight observations and analysis. The tunnel currently stands as one of the most advanced wind tunnels in the country, and one of the largest for animal flight study in the world. SMMA worked alongside Brown and AeroLab to program the wind tunnel with numerous advanced capabilities such as speed, pressure, temperature controls, and particle image velocimetry.

Brown University wind tunnel diagram.       
Brown University wind tunnel science.

These features allow the University to perpetuate its leadership on topics like animal motion, fluid-structure interactions for flight vehicles, energy harvesting, and bio-inspired flight robotics. Specifically, by analyzing maneuver behaviors of bats, birds, and other flying and gliding animals through different wind patterns and new experimental techniques, scientists can then advance the aerodynamics of wing design for the very same jets and airplanes that travel through our stratosphere.


Expediting the Process

Brown University’s Barus and Holley Building was first constructed in 1965, named for physicist and faculty member Carl Barus and engineer Alexander Lyman Holley. The 220,000 sf building houses the School of Engineering and the Physics Department, including 117 laboratories, 150 offices, 15 classrooms, 29 laboratory classrooms, and three lecture halls.

SMMA connected with an external design build team to efficiently renovate several of the building’s lab spaces: Darpa Lab, Leo Li, and Plumb and Stein. The main goal was to support their longevity, and to do it fast; not only was SMMA working with an ageing infrastructure, but also on an extremely expedited schedule. The team only had a two-year grant to refresh both the Darpa and Leo Li labs.

Brown University lab spaces and wind tunnel.


The Plumb and Stein Labs

SMMA also enhanced the Plumb and Stein laboratories on campus. Though the approach for this project did not mandate a fast strategy, it required more personalization and collaboration: Brown’s Professor Plumb worked directly alongside the SMMA team to identify proper equipment utilization and address other challenges during the process. These thorough and informed touches not only elevated the lab spaces, but also the existing SMMA-Brown relationship.




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