Take a sneak peek inside ASU's new Biodesign C building

Expansion of ASU's Biodesign Institute is under construction along Rural Road

December 15, 2017

Biodesign C, the $120 million building expansion of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, continues to rise along Rural Road at ASU’s Tempe campus.

Much of the building is now in place ahead of an April 2018 completion date. Biodesign staff recently toured the construction site for a sneak peek at the progress, and the project architects explained the building’s layout, infrastructure and appearance at a seminar in November. Biodesign C tour Though dust and construction equipment still fill the new Biodesign C building, it will be ready for research in just a few months. Photo by Ben Petersen Download Full Image

It is the third building at ASU’s 14-acre master-planned Biodesign complex. The 189,000-square-foot structure includes 60,000 square feet of flexible laboratory space and office space, which will house nearly 400 researchers and staff, bringing the total size of Biodesign to 535,000 square feet and nearly 700 researchers. ASU's investment in the building and the lab equipment inside will total about $200 million.

Biodesign C is five stories tall, plus a basement. Its crown jewel lies in an underground vault: the world’s first compact X-ray free-electron laser. This innovative device will let scientists peer deep into molecular structure at a fraction of the cost of a typical free-electron laser. The new laser holds promise for drug discovery and bioenergy research.

The expansion is expected to draw top international scientific talent and grow ASU’s annual research expenditures by an estimated $60 million, supporting ASU’s goal of increasing research revenue to $850 million by 2025 and contributing an estimated $750 million to the Phoenix metro area in the coming decade.

Design thinking

“First and foremost, ASU wanted a workhorse research building that maximizes its investment,” said Erik Halle, ASU’s director of research facilities and infrastructure. It had to be 100-percent reliable, highly efficient and easy to operate and maintain. The successful design proposal took it a step further, thinking deeply about how the design could stimulate the Biodesign Institute’s unique, nature-inspired approach to research.

More than 20 design firms submitted proposals, and the university selected ZGF Architects and BWS Architects for the project. “These are two very highly skilled architects for what we believe to be an extraordinary and successful project for ASU,” Halle said.

Inspired by ASU’s institutional design aspirations and the Biodesign mission, the architects designed the building around a concept of research neighborhoods. “The form of the building grew from the idea of how we wanted it to function. It’s an embodiment of the type of collaboration we expect to see in the Institute,” said Gary Cabo, principal at ZGF Architects.

Biodesign scientists specialize in an entrepreneurial mindset to translate their discoveries into societal impact. The building’s open neighborhood model encourages collaboration between scientists of different disciplines. It also accommodates different forms of research with specific infrastructure and equipment needs, including chemistry, biological sciences and engineering.

Biodesign C will house a number of new and expanded programs, including the new ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center. Led by Eric Reiman, it is expected to be one of the world’s largest basic science centers for the study of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. The C building will also house an expanded Biodesign Center for Mechanisms of Evolution led by Michael Lynch.

Sense of place

Located at a major eastern entry point for ASU’s Tempe campus and visible from miles away, Biodesign C is a striking addition to the neighborhood. It sits steps away from a major transportation hub connected by Valley Metro light rail, ASU’s intercampus shuttle and city buses, along Tempe’s busy Rural Road and between two parking garages.

The C building’s distinctive, wraparound copper skin emphasizes Biodesign’s Arizona roots (copper being one of Arizona’s historic “Five C’s” that drove the state’s early economy) and shields the building from sun exposure. Beneath this outer skin lies another metal skin that Cabo compared to a refrigerator door to further insulate the building. The space between the two skins acts like a chimney, allowing hot air to escape.

“This is the highest-performing building from an energy and technology standpoint on a campus that is known for excellent stewardship of the environment,” Cabo said. Biodesign C is targeting the rigorous LEED Platinum certification, building on a Biodesign tradition — Biodesign B was the first LEED Platinum building in Arizona.

“As an institution, Arizona State University is at the forefront of innovation in energy and performance in buildings,” said Robin Shambach, managing principal at BWS Architects. “Our goal was to be 50 percent better than similar research facilities, and Biodesign C will exceed that goal.”

Despite the extensive shielding to withstand Arizona summers, natural light fills the interior. The building boasts impressive views of Tempe in all directions and the neighborhood layout offers clear lines of sight through lab and office spaces. Biodesign C is adjacent to one of the largest areas of green space on the urban Tempe campus, which includes a desert garden and the James Turrell “Skyspace: Air Apparent” public art installation.

Biodesign C connects to the existing Biodesign B building underground; above ground, they connect visually via a shaded patio and glass lobby outside the Biodesign cafe. The design also leaves room for a possible fourth research building in the future.

Innovative construction

Advanced building techniques made the Biodesign C building possible.

“Successful architecture is not unlike research,” Halle said. “It can be incredibly complex. It is dealing with the minutiae of everything, and at the same time it embodies bold visions.” The basement, housing the world’s first compact X-ray free-electron laser (CXFEL), exemplifies this idea.

Free-electron lasers help scientists to better understand the cellular mechanics of diseases such as cancer and processes including photosynthesis, accelerating research for new treatments and energy sources. Biodesign scientists William Graves and Mark Holl have collaborated with the architects, structural engineers and general contractor McCarthy Construction to shield the custom-built laser from outside interference.

This meant a lot of problem-solving: minimizing vibration from passing light rail trains, reducing magnetic fields in building materials and containing the energy from the laser beam. The lead-lined laser vaults feature an isolated four to six foot concrete mat slab that required a special overnight pour from more than 100 cement trucks, four foot thick concrete walls, a Faraday cage structure, demagnetized steel rebar, electronic safety features and a state-of-the-art control room.

ASU’s compact laser has the potential to relieve a scientific traffic jam and dramatically shrink the cost of this technology. Currently, there are only four XFEL facilities worldwide, including the $700 million, two-mile-long Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Capacity simply cannot keep up with demand from researchers, and 80 percent of requests to use the technology are denied.

ASU’s CXFEL will also be about 100 times smaller and cheaper than a typical XFEL. ASU expects the Biodesign C laser will attract scientists from around the world and further grow the university’s reputation as a leading hub for research, innovation and discovery.

McCarthy Construction built and tested mock-ups of building components before they went up, including concrete slabs, columns and exterior panels. Biodesign C also features an innovative high-performance HVAC system that conserves energy while keeping labs properly ventilated and temperature controlled. Construction will be completed in April 2018.

Ben Petersen

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3 ways to transform your outlook through mindfulness

Holidays got you stressed? Try these 3 techniques from ASU mindfulness experts.
December 15, 2017

Take a few moments from your stressful day and practice these techniques to re-center

Editor's note: This story was originally published in December 2017. But these mindfulness tips can be useful to help you cope with any situation, including the current COVID-19 crisis.

We like to think of the holidays as a time of peace, joy and family togetherness, but very often the reality is quite different: feeling stress over gifts and finances, overwhelmed by bursting calendars and guilt over not being anything resembling jolly.

It's time to re-center.

Experts at Arizona State University's new Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience offer these mindfulness techniques to transform how you think, feel and act — whether it's the holidays, tax season or just one of those days.

“Mindfulness is a lifestyle, a way of reconnecting with the inner self,” said Nika Gueci, executive director for university engagement at the center. “Mindful meditation is one aspect of this lifestyle and has been linked to enhanced self-efficacy and time-management skills, decreased stress and burnout, increased compassion toward self and others, lessened anxiety and increased resilience.”

When trying out these and other techniques, Gueci suggests finding a quiet space you can use specifically for meditation.

“Practice at the same time every day so that it becomes part of your schedule,” she said. “It is also helpful to keep a journal so that you can see any changes that come up for you as a result of your practice.”

1. Move it

When the mind is stuck, your body has been still and you have been staring at devices too long, get unstuck by moving.

You don’t need a treasure trove of yoga postures, tai chi play or dance moves. Just get up out of your chair, bring a rhythm to your mind as you breathe in and out slowly and deeply, and begin to move with your breath. Let the hands move, then the arms, then slowly move your head in small figure eights. Move your hips and knees ever so gently to the rhythm of your breath.

Then move it a little faster. Let your body go and find movements that are new. Flow them into the whole of your body, making up the moves as you go along. And breathe!

Finally, slow it down to a quiet standing. Stay with the feeling of your body for a minute or so. When you get back to what you were doing, notice how clear your mind is — flowing thoughts, intuition and clarity, mental alertness and cleared emotions.

2. Transformation of the heart

Feeling through our emotions and valuing the signals they provide us is very important to our wholeness and wellness. For many, though, emotions may become stuck, swallowed down or too easily triggered in cyclic and burdensome ways, resulting in a trap that is difficult to escape.

Many mindfulness practices begin to reshape how our neurophysiology responds to emotional triggers, but it often takes a long time of dedicated practice (eyes closed, in a quiet place) to get to the point where one’s inner calm begins to function in the face of outer-world emotional triggers.

A very powerful tool that comes from the teachings of the HeartMath Institute is based on the science of heart-rate variability rhythms. The following exercise can be used anytime, standing or sitting, eyes open, even in the midst of emotional triggers, to begin to transform those traps into treasures. Practice on your own when the triggers are not present to deepen the skill, and then remember, next time you are in a situation where draining emotions come over you, do this: 

• Put all of your attention into the area around your heart and begin to focus as if you can breathe in and out of this focal area. Be present in the heart area as you continue to breathe, a little slower and deeper than usual.

• After several breaths, and after you have felt yourself be completely present with the breath in your heart area, imagine someone, something or someplace that brings a sense of rejuvenation or a feeling of deep appreciation to you. Is there a favorite place in nature that leaves you in awe? Do you have a memory of a child you love, or a puppy, climbing up into your lap? Think of that, but rather than “think” in your mind, bring the experience of that memory into your breath, into your heart. Breathe in the memory, breathe out the emotional experience.

• With each breath, allow this emotional medicine to wash through you, expand in your heart and through your body. Notice how this is now your emotional landscape, holding this as a very physical feeling of emotional uplift, and stay with this awhile. 

This practice can transform the impact of draining, painful emotions and shift neuro-hormones to a more positive, healthful state.

(The first two techniques were provided by Linda Larkey, a College of Nursing and Health Innovation professor who studies how mind-body methods can alleviate symptoms in cancer survivors. She is also a dedicated practitioner of qigong.)

3. Three-minute breathing space

One of the ways that mindfulness works to reduce stress is by helping us learn to recognize when we are on autopilot and are reacting more out of habit than responding with thoughtfulness.

The “three-minute breathing space” is a practice taught in many mindfulness-based programs as a way to integrate mindful awareness into regular daily activities. Taking time for this practice regularly throughout the day — particularly when tension, agitation and frustration are noticed — can assist in expanding our capacity to notice what is really happening rather than getting swept away in our perceptions, interpretations and stories about what is happening.

The three-minute breathing space involves three parts:

• Minute 1: Pause what you are doing and turn the attention to what is being experienced right now. Perhaps sit up a bit straighter in your seat and, if you are comfortable, close your eyes. What is going on right now? What sensations do you notice in the body (jaws, shoulders, chest, throat, etc.)? What is the state of the mind (calm, racing, confused)? Can you notice what thoughts are occurring right now? What are you feeling right now (content, frustrated, angry, etc.)?

• Minute 2:  Let all this dissolve from awareness now and just rest the attention on the sensations of the breath. Notice where the breath feels a bit vivid for you right now — movement at the belly or chest, air touching the nostrils as the breath moves in and out. Just let the attention rest on the full in-breath and the full out-breath. If the attention wanders to something else, no big deal — just escort the attention back to the sensation of breathing.

• Minute 3: Expand awareness of sensation again now to include the whole body. What sensations do you notice in the body now? What is the state of the mind? What are you feeling right now? When you are comfortable, open your eyes and proceed with your activities with a renewed sense of presence.

(This technique was provided by Ann Sebren, a College of Health Solutions principal lecturer who teaches courses on mindfulness-based stress reduction, both at ASU and in the community.)