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The Corridor

Rising along Boston Avenue is a new hub of science and technology research at Tufts.

Over the past couple of years, new buildings have gone up along Boston Avenue, while others have been rehabbed and reimagined. Together they form the Tufts Science and Technology Corridor, a whirl of innovation, collaboration, and discovery—and a dramatic expansion of the Medford/Somerville campus.

The Corridor, which runs from Harvard Street up to College Avenue (and even farther when you include the fascinating research being done at 200 Boston Avenue), weaves together existing STEM gems such as the Bray Lab and the Science and Technology Center with the new Science and Engineering Complex and the Collaborative Learning and Innovation Complex. And keeping it all humming (along with much of the rest of campus) will soon be an efficient new state-of-the-art energy plant.

In the pages ahead, we’ll take a building-by-building tour of the Corridor. We’ll explore the big brains cranking out the big new ideas, and we’ll spotlight some of the amazing, cutting-edge research happening all along Boston Avenue.

The Science and Engineering Complex

The SEC’s original brick structures (Robinson Hall, built in 1899, Anderson in 1961, and Anderson’s annex in 1965) housed several departments, including engineering and physics, all dwelling in close proximity but without much interaction. To change that, the buildings were renovated, as well as unified in tone and attitude, creating a complex that reflects the university’s commitment to collaboration and scientific inquiry.

The complex is scheduled to welcome its first students this fall, and the lab spaces will be the highlight. They’ll have every modern advantage—state-of-the-art science equipment, cutting-edge ventilation, and ergonomic workstations—but much of the wow factor will be supplied by a new sunlit four-story atrium featuring a ground-level cafe and common space that’s visible from balconies on every floor above.

In addition to those labs, separated by a glass window-wall from lounge space, the new facility features classrooms and areas for collaboration, which will be helped along by comfy furniture, walls finished in whiteboard paint, and natural light. The leading technology companies of the day design their buildings with interaction in mind, and the goal at the SEC is for budding scientists to make both important discoveries and lasting connections. —Rachel Slade

An all-for-one Design

The design of the SEC, the work of the Boston architecture firm Payette, reveals how a limited palette—glass, brick, steel, and wood—can work together. On the interior, for instance, brick and stone tell us about the construction period of each piece within the complex—the uneven building blocks and decorative terra cotta flourishes of the 1899 facade, the anonymity of white painted bricks in the midcentury building, the variegated gray of the new manganese bricks, and the large-scale stone flooring that ties it all together.
Walking around the complex, meanwhile, involves negotiating a forty-foot change in elevation, but a recessed plinth of stately manganese ironspot brick maintains a constant visual baseline. Payette used a mix of brick patterning to terrific effect. Outside, an all-wood soffit, cantilevering above the brick plinth, is smartly finished with an elegantly thin steel extrusion edge. These sensitive details reveal a seriousness of thought rarely seen on institutional buildings.

Along with the surprisingly inviting atrium, Payette has broken out the energy-intensive lab spaces (which require a lot of ventilation) from other work spaces. Nearly all areas benefit from their proximity to the interior courtyard or exterior windows, and are bathed in natural light. These designs should significantly lower the university’s electrical bills.
With its warm materiality and urbane, piazza-like atrium, the SEC reflects the close-knit campus feel of Tufts while providing modern amenities to its scientific explorers. —Rachel Slade

the SEC’s Stand Up Guy

To Dave Martin, E96, the School of Engineering is like the family institution. He, his grandfather, aunt, and uncle are all graduates. And though he earned his master’s at Cornell, Martin returned to Tufts to serve as structural engineer for the new SEC. We caught up with him to talk about the project.

What is a structural engineer, anyway?
It’s someone who works with an architect to help make their building stand up. We design the skeleton that supports the building system, providing a structure that will support whatever type of loading demand the project requires.

What was notable about this project?
We coordinated structural elements, including hundreds of steel beam penetrations, with all the mechanical, electrical and plumbing, and architectural features, and we made every effort to maximize space for labs, classrooms, and offices.

That sounds like quite a challenge.
Structural engineering is the most artistic of the engineering trades. It’s a marriage of art, math, and science.

Tell us about the building itself.
What I love most is the exposed structure. The roof in the atrium, for instance, is all exposed structural steel—it’s meant to be part of the experience of the architecture. It’s amazing, coming back and contributing to your own campus. And it’s especially gratifying because it involves the School of Engineering, an institution that is helping to grow the future of engineering.

The Collaborative Learning and Innovation Complex

The 95,000-square-foot, four-story building may retain its historical character as a century-old factory—the original wood floors are still here, along with massive wood beams—but it now features an interior design that’s fluid and bright, with plenty of open space, contemporary colors, and inviting furniture. The fact that people—not walls—define how the space is used is best illustrated on the fourth floor, where students mingle and study in a light-filled, 20-foot-wide gallery that’s lined with white boards.

The spirit of creative collision is demonstrated by the diversity of the departments housed in CLIC. Physics and astronomy, community health, and occupational therapy are all here, as are some faculty with the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development. You’ll also find the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s degree program in Human Factors, and the Tufts Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies program also has a presence in the building.

Collaboration in Action

To see the kinds of exciting ideas that have already been sparked across departments at CLIC, look no further than the efforts of Sasha Fleary, assistant professor in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development, and Jennifer Allen, chair of the Department of Community Health.

They’re working together on research projects that include using Twitter to promote the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine in public housing. Allen has also teamed up with occupational therapy colleagues to explore new partnerships with her department.
“It’s been really exciting to be” in a place where collaboration has sprung up organically, Allen said. “I do think that bringing our ideas to fruition has been facilitated by being together in this building.”

Meet the Neighbors

The Psychology Building
The Department of Psychology focuses on collaborative, experimental scholarship that bridges areas such as neuroscience, social cognition, experimental clinical psychology, and developmental psychology. Faculty and students are illuminating subjects ranging from how infants pick up on social cues to how race impacts the way people interact with the world.

Bray Lab
At Bray, future engineers are given the resources to pursue innovations from scratch, whether it’s a Robotics Club firefighting robot or the Tufts Racing Team’s high-performance plug-in hybrid racecar. The work gets done on equipment in specially outfitted spaces, like the 3D printers in the Design Lab and the laser cutter in the Shop.

Science and Technology Center
David Kaplan, director of the Bioengineering and Biotechnology Center, is developing new possibilities for silk in medicine—just one of several projects going on here in biomedical engineering and chemical and biological engineering. Cutting-edge research is also happening in the Tufts Plasma Engineering Laboratory, led by Jeffrey Hopwood, professor of electrical and computer engineering.

the school of engineering

The School of Engineering traces its origin to the end of the Civil War, when civil engineers were urgently needed to help rebuild the country. Tufts College responded by launching a three-year course in civil engineering in the fall of 1865, but it wasn’t until two years later that the first student, Frederick Howard White of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, enrolled.

The program attracted just a handful of students until 1883, when Tufts began offering classes in electrical engineering. Within two years, there were two dozen engineers on the Hill, representing a third of all students. The Bromfield-Pearson building opened in 1894 to support the study of carpentry, drawing, forging, and machine work. Other buildings followed, including Robinson Hall (1900), Halligan Hall (1940), Bray Laboratory (1947), and Anderson Hall (1961).

It was the professors and the students who became the core of the engineering program. Vannevar Bush was one example of both. After graduating from the College of Engineering in 1913, Bush became an assistant professor in electrical engineering and also taught mathematics and physics. Two years later, he helped start the American Radio and Research Corporation (AMRAD), which built components for military and civilian radios in what is now Halligan Hall. AMRAD continued after Bush moved to M.I.T. in 1919, and was eventually bought by Motorola. In 1932, Bush, his former Tufts roommate Laurence Marshall, and a third colleague founded Raytheon Corporation. During World War II, Bush ran the Office of Scientific Research and Development, overseeing the Manhattan Project.

Today, the School of Engineering comprises six major departments, three centers for interdisciplinary collaboration, and an institute for leadership and entrepreneurship. —Charlie Trantanella, E89

200 Boston Avenue

Fiorenzo G. Omenetto, the Frank C. Doble Professor of Engineering; professor of biomedical engineering
Omenetto is pioneering the use of silk as a material in high-technology applications. His lab has already produced a class of medical implants that never need surgical removal, and now the team is researching silk-constructed consumer electronics that could become compost rather than trash at the end of their useful life.

Michael Levin, A92, the Vannevar Bush Professor in the Department of Biology; director of the Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology
Levin’s exploration of how cells communicate to create and repair anatomical shapes could lead to breakthroughs in birth defects, cancer, traumatic injuries, and degenerative diseases. No wonder Levin was awarded one of just two $10 million grants from Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, an award that established the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University for Reading and Writing the Morphogenetic Code.

Matthias Scheutz, professor of cognitive and computer science at the School of Engineering; director of the Human-Robot Interaction Laboratory
Scheutz’s team at the Human-Robot Interaction Laboratory has developed software that functions as a kind of robot “brain,” coaching machines on how to respond to human language and nonverbal cues. The breakthrough technology was featured in the prestigious World Science Festival last year, and the Tufts team is one of twenty selected to compete in NASA’s $1 million Space Robotics Challenge, testing how robots might help astronauts—by, say, fixing equipment damaged by a dust storm on Mars.

Thomas Vandervelde, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Vandervelde’s work is focused on a material that has had more impact on our society than perhaps any other: the semiconductor. Vandervelde’s photonic semiconductors are used to make LED lights, lasers, cameras, solar cells, and many other devices. He’s at work on a semiconductor to help cameras detect infrared light, which might help identify forest fires before they spread, highlight a weakness in a power line before it fails, or improve the imaging of certain cancers. Vandervelde produces prototypes with his lab’s multi-chamber molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) system, a technology usually limited to companies with extravagant R&D budgets. But his lab is open to other academics and startups.

Power Switch

The new Central Energy Plant on Boston Avenue is quite an upgrade from the 60-year-old facility it replaces. Fueled by natural gas, the CEP uses energy-efficient cogeneration technology to produce electricity as well as steam. That means it can keep the lights (and the heat) on at Tufts even if the power goes out in the surrounding community. And you can watch it all happen through the building’s multi-story glass façade. “We call it ‘technology on display,’ said Randall Preston, director of the University Energy Program. This is how it works:

  1. At the heart of the new plant, scheduled to go online this summer, are an enormous internal-combustion engine and generator—together, they’re approximately thirty-two feet long and weigh close to sixty tons—that can produce four megawatts of electricity. On most days, that’s enough to power fifty-two Medford/Somerville Tufts buildings.
  2. In a traditional power plant, the heat thrown off while producing electricity goes to waste, but the Central Energy Plant puts the 900-degree exhaust to work with the aid of a heat recovery steam generator that helps to heat thirty-five academic and residence buildings. Added to other efficiencies, that means a 14 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
  3. Additional waste heat from the cogeneration system is redirected to an absorption chiller. In warm months, chilled water from the absorber will help cool campus buildings, including Tisch Library and the new Science and Engineering Complex, further increasing efficiency. Bottom line? The new plant is projected to ultimately slash campus energy costs by about 20 percent.
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