University Park

Millennium Science Complex nears finish, readies for advanced research

University Park, Pa. — Rising up along Pollock Road between Shortlidge and Bigler roads on Penn State's University Park campus, the 297,000-square-foot Millennium Science Complex is impressive for its size alone. But what is truly remarkable about the new building is in the details.

"Every aspect of this building has been very thoughtfully designed in great detail, from the highly sensitive research labs to the configuration of the plants on a green roof," said Gordon Turow, director of campus planning and design. "It's very impressive that a building of this size could so successfully address such a huge range of complex design details."

Contractors are putting the finishing touches on those details as the building nears completion. After nearly three years, most construction work was finished by the end of July, and the University expects soon to receive an occupancy permit from the Department of Labor and Industry verifying it has been built to code.

The Millennium Science Complex will serve as the new home for cutting-edge discoveries by researchers in Penn State's Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences and Materials Research Institute, promoting cross-disciplinary efforts within and between the institutes. But before that research can get under way in its new home, there is still work to be done.

For photos of the Millennium Science complex, visit

Dick Tennent, Office of Physical Plant project manager for the building, said furniture has been ordered and will be arriving through August. New and existing lab equipment must be moved and set up in the new spaces, which for some research can be a complicated and meticulous endeavor. Staff will begin moving into the building beginning in September and continuing through October.

Before approximately 300 researchers and staff can move into the building, specialists conduct a systems commissioning to ensure the building's mechanical systems, such as heating and cooling, are working to specifications, which for research laboratories can require extreme precision.

"We basically need to run the building through its paces before the users get there," Tennent said. "Lab buildings by nature are more complicated. The criteria for their needs can be a lot more exacting, and it can take awhile to get everything ready to go."

The building -- the most comprehensive research facility and largest academic building at the University -- required innovative solutions from the start. Designed to be free from vibration and electromagnetic forces that disturb sensitive equipment, quiet labs are isolated by their location, extra-thick concrete slabs, double walls and aluminum plating around floors, walls and ceilings, among other means. A clean room at the heart of the building is designed to have a very low level of environmental pollutants and particles, achieved through a separate exhaust system and dedicated delivery tunnel.

"We built the building to some pretty tight specifications from the research requirements. We haven't built to this extent before," Tennent said. "There are construction expectations dealing with vibration and interference dampening that we tried to meet and we're confident we have met them."

In addition to the research lab needs that had to be considered, design and construction of the building also required the balancing of multiple priorities such as creating an aesthetic fit on campus, meeting environmental standards and enhancing pedestrian paths.

"It's quite remarkable that a building with such sophisticated architecture and of this scale could fit so comfortably on campus," Turow said.

Designed by architect Rafael Vinoly, the Millennium Science Complex's most visually notable architectural feature is a large cantilever joining the life sciences and material sciences wings. Beneath the cantilever is a plaza and garden that doubles as a green roof for the lab space below. Green roofs are part of efforts to make the building LEED-certified, the U.S. standard for environmental and energy efficiency.

Turow added that the building's landscaping and walkways enhance pedestrian connections from Shortlidge Mall to Bigler Road and from Pollock Road to the Student Health Center. He also said the expansive green space in front of the complex was graded to include a plateau about the size of a recreation field so that students could use it for informal recreation and leisure purposes.

"We see students use the space in front of the law school's Lewis Katz Building and in front of the Business Building," Turow said. "Observing how the campus is used in informal ways is as important as the formal ways. That's why we created the plateau at Millennium."

Like those recently constructed buildings and the Information Sciences and Technology Building on campus, also designed by Vinoly, Turow said he expects the Millennium Science Complex to become a memorable campus structure, not only for its size and design, but for what it represents.

"This building is a symbol of Penn State's commitment to advanced research," Turow said. "With the creation of this iconic building dedicated to promoting interdisciplinary collaboration in the fields of materials science and life sciences, the University has demonstrated its commitment to excellence in cutting-edge research for the future."

A formal dedication of the building is being planned for November.

The cantiliever joining the life sciences and materials science sections of the new Millennium Science Complex. Click on the above image for more photos. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated August 10, 2015