The launch of uOttawa’s ARC

Research and innovation

By Monique Roy-Sole

Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation, OVPRI

 Advanced Research Complex
"The Advanced Research Complex will provide the foundation for strengthening the University of Ottawa's national and international leadership in the fields of photonics and Earth sciences."

- Mona Nemer

The late André Lalonde, a former University of Ottawa dean of science, had a clear-cut vision for the Advanced Research Complex (ARC), the new home of photonics and geoscience research. It was to “put science on display,” recalls senior architect Stephen Jones of Cole and Associates, the Ottawa firm that designed the building at the corner of King Edward Avenue and Templeton Street. Indeed, passersby can see from the street — through a two-storey glass lobby — what’s going on in the Earth sciences laboratory that bears Lalonde’s name. It’s a stretch from most research labs, which are typically out of the public eye.

From the outset, the building’s concept has been about transparency, collaboration and breaking down barriers. “ARC offers an evolving model that fosters multidisciplinary research in the faculties of science and engineering, and supports the continuum from fundamental research to technology development,” says Mohamad Nasser-Eddine, director of the University’s Office of Strategic Development Initiatives, a small team that plays a critical role behind the scenes, along with the Strategic Project Management Group, in developing, securing and managing large-scale government-funded research projects.

ARC brings together researchers and graduate students from the departments of physics and Earth sciences, as well as the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “The design was customized to the functional and technical needs of our researchers,” says Sylvain Charbonneau, associate vice-president, research, and a lead on the project. Scientists were consulted at various stages of the building’s design and construction, starting with the choice of the site from among five locations that were considered.

The idea for the creation of the building took root in the Office of the Vice-President, Research, led by Mona Nemer. To reach the University’s goal of moving into the ranks of Canada’s top five research-intensive universities, the office set out to provide fertile ground for research, focusing on four Strategic Areas of Development in Research, which encompass research in photonics and Earth sciences.

Two eminent researchers, physicist Paul Corkum and geoscientist Ian Clark, gave the project a healthy jump-start. In 2008-2009, they independently applied for and received a total of more than $26 million from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Research Fund. Pooled together, their grants provided vital seed funding for the construction of the new research hub.

Building a five-storey centre for complex scientific research required a tight web of collaboration between the architects, the builders and the researchers. Chief among scientists’ concerns was the building’s stability, as the slightest vibration can throw off sensitive laser experiments. ARC’s centrepiece, the 44-tonne accelerator mass spectrometer used to detect and analyze trace radioisotopes (see page 4), also demanded a rock-solid and very flat floor. The solution was raft slabs, a type of floating concrete floor up to 90 centimetres thick, which is anchored by scores of concrete-filled steel piles driven into the bedrock and physically isolated from the rest of the building. If the building shakes, the slab stays put.

Built by Pomerleau, a well-known construction company in Eastern Canada, the building extrudes from a hill in a clean, linear design. It symbolizes the stratification, or layering, of rocks. But it has an equally practical application: the photonics labs are nestled into the slope to shield them from ambient light that can affect laser experiments. Among other design features, the labs are equipped with diffusers that push air sideways instead of downward, also to avoid disrupting sensitive lasers.

The promise of such a leading-edge facility has already attracted accomplished researchers to the University’s doorstep and will continue to draw experts and graduate students.

“The Advanced Research Complex will provide the foundation for strengthening the University of Ottawa’s national and international leadership in the fields of photonics and Earth sciences,” says Nemer, who championed the construction of ARC from the beginning. “This incomparable setting will stimulate discovery and encourage our scientists to push back the frontiers of science.”

For photonics and geoscience researchers and their graduate students, the launch of ARC opens up endless new horizons.