The University of Southampton

Tenth anniversary of the University of Southampton’s Mountbatten Building fire

Published: 
30 October 2015
Illustration

Ten years ago fire ripped through the University of Southampton’s Mountbatten Building gutting the building and destroying valuable equipment and research.

A decade later and the award-winning Mountbatten Building successor has risen like a phoenix from the ashes. Providing £120m worth of specialist facilities and equipment, the Mountbatten Building now enables world-leading researchers to continue their pioneering work tackling many of the key challenges facing society today.

The new Zepler Institute Cleanroom Complex houses a revolutionary suite of research facilities. Home to the UK’s best set of nanoelectronics and photonics fabrication capabilities, including the Southampton Nanofabrication Centre, the Complex is driving forward some of the most innovative explorations in optics and nanotechnology research.

Professor Nick Jennings, Head of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS), said: “The fire which destroyed the old microfabrication cleanroom gave us the opportunity to create a facility which is unique and internationally leading as a place to research and develop the next generation of electronics and multidisciplinary applications.

“The Southampton Nanofabrication Centre cleanroom facility is both grounded in existing state-of-the-art nanofabrication technology and exploring the next generation of fabrication methods, materials and devices. Research in the facility covers the creation and characterisation of nano-electronic devices, functional materials and nanophotonics, spintronics, quantum and memristive devices, bio-inspired devices, microfluidics and Lab-on-a-Chip systems, and NEMS devices.”

Here we look at the key milestones in that led to the reconstruction of the Mountbatten Building:

Fire devastates Mountbatten Building - October 30, 2005 A massive fire devastated the Mountbatten Building. Firefighters were called at 6.30am and battled until mid-afternoon to extinguish the blaze. No-one was injured in the fire which was believed to have started accidentally. The University’s then Secretary and Registrar John Lauwerys said: “This is a huge loss to the University and the fire has destroyed one of our key research facilities of international importance.” While former University Vice-Chancellor Bill Wakeham pledged the day after the fire: “We are committed to rebuilding, and that out of these tragic events will emerge something bigger and better.”

Rebuilding work begins - October, 2006 A year to the day after the fire, demolition teams move on to the site to prepare for the construction of the new building.

Boris Johnson MP tours construction site - June, 2007 Boris Johnson MP, the then Shadow Minister for Higher Education, toured the construction of the new £55m Mountbatten Building. He remarked on how impressed he was by the scale of the building and the potential of the work to be carried out there.

New equipment ordered - October 2007 More than £6.5m worth of key equipment is ordered for the new Mountbatten Building, including a Jeol JBX 9300 FS electron beam lithography system, costing £3.3m - a significant tool for top down nanotechnology research. The order also includes deposition and etch equipment that deposit thin layers of semiconductors and insulators, and etches patterns that have been written by the e-beam lithography system.

Topping out ceremony – November 2007 The new Mountbatten Building’s topping out ceremony marked the fact that the building had reached its highest point. University Pro-Chancellor Dame Valerie Strachan was accompanied by University Vice-Chancellor Professor Bill Wakeham, and representatives from the construction company, the project management team, the design team, and architects and engineers.

Eye-catching fractal pattern added to building - December 2007 The dynamic fractal pattern, inspired by the University’s research into optical nanotechnology, is added to the glass panels of the new Mountbatten Building. The fractals form an ornamental design on the glass of the new building and are a reflection of the innovative research being carried out by Electronics and Computer Science and the Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) to create new optoelectronic devices that could enhance optical communications and reduce the cost of solar energy.

New building opens doors to staff and students – October, 2008 Three years to the day after the devastating fire, the imposing building that has taken its place opened its doors to students and staff. Occupying the same footprint as its predecessor, the new building is one of Europe’s leading multidisciplinary and state-of-the-art cleanroom complexes. It provides flexible research space for world-leading technology development in nanotechnology and photonics. At the time former Head of ECS Professor Harvey Rutt said: “We have a truly fantastic facility that positions us at the cutting-edge of nanotechnology,” while ORC Director Professor Sir David Payne said: “This magnificent cleanroom building is unique and world leading in its imaginative vision for the integration of nanoscience, photonics and optical fibre technology.”

Mountbatten Building wins top architecture award – May 2009 The new Mountbatten Building wins a prestigious award from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). The awards are made annually and are highly prized for buildings that have high architectural standards and make a substantial contribution to the local environment. The RIBA judges praised the Mountbatten Building’s simple, dynamic forms with a design that embodies 21st century scientific research in a sustainable, academic setting. The building is a bold and modern design and features an impressively spacious atrium. Its glass curtain walls allow those outside to view the research taking place in the cleanrooms.

Unique Spectra detector commissioned – July 2009 A unique Spectra detector on the Zeiss Orion beam instrument was commissioned. The detector was the first of its kind to be installed and measures the energy of the helium ions that bounce off a sample.

Southampton Nanofabrication Centre opened – September, 2009 Southampton’s Nanofabrication Centre – one of Europe’s premiere cleanroom complexes – was opened. The £100m facility was launched by Professor Ian Diamond, Chair of Research Councils UK who said the new building would place Southampton as part of an excellent UK network better than anywhere in the world. The state-of-the-art facility for microfabrication and high-spec nanofabrication has a uniquely broad range of technologies, combining traditional and novel top down fabrication with bottom up fabrication.

Mountbatten Building officially opened – January, 2011 The new Mountbatten Building was officially opened by the Rt Hon David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science. Mr Willetts paid tribute to all those involved in the reconstruction of the building and in ensuring it was bigger and better than before. He also announced £7.2m of investment in research that could revolutionise the Internet. Led by Professor David Payne, Director of the ORC, the Photonics Hyperhighway project brings together world-leading scientists from the universities of Southampton and Essex and industry partners to pioneer new technologies capable of making broadband Internet 100 times faster.

Zepler Institute opened - September, 2013 The Zepler Institute - the UK’s largest photonics and electronics institute – was launched. The Institute is a unique multidisciplinary research centre that brings together leading expertise in photonics, advanced materials, quantum technologies and nanoscience to build on the University’s reputation in photonics and electronics delivering solutions to the key global challenges of the future.

REF confirms world-leading research in electrical and electronic engineering - December, 2014 The University of Southampton comes out top in the UK for the volume and quality of its research in Electrical and Electronic Engineering in the latest Research Excellence Framework (REF) results. The REF considered case studies showing the impact of our research including work on the latest advances in nanotechnology and micro-devices to deliver new remote therapies to patients.

International Consortium in Nanotechnologies launched – September, 2015 The Lloyd’s Register Foundation International COnsortium in Nanotechnologies (ICON) is launched. Led by Dr Themis Prodromakis, the multi-million pound project will bring together some of the world’s brightest early career researchers to find new ways of using nanotechnologies to improve safety at sea, on land and in the air.

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