Switzerland offers: The world’s quietest room

Ever  needed some silence? You might want to consider moving to Switzerland where the world’s quietest room is located!

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Entering the facility

Four years ago, in May 2011, IBM Research Zurich and ETH Zurich, together with the Swiss Federal Institute of Material Science, Empa, announced their collaboration on the Binnig & Rohrer Nanotechnology Centre.

The new center named after Gerd Binnig and the late Heinrich Rohrer, the two IBM scientists and Nobel laureates who invented the scanning tunneling microscope at the IBM Zurich Research Lab in 1981, enables researchers from all three institutions to pursue joint and independent projects, ranging from exploratory research to applied and near-term projects, including new nanoscale devices and device concepts, and to generate insights about their scientific foundations at the atomic level.

The Nanotechnology Centre contains six uniquely designed noise-free labs that shield extremely sensitive experiments from external disturbances, such as vibrations, electro-magnetic fields, for example from nearby trains and cellphone towers, temperature fluctuations and acoustic noise.

This is crucial, because the experiments carried in these labs study phenomena that happen at the nano-meter level and are thus very sensitive to changes in the environment. It is no use having the most precise microscope there is, if the atoms it is pointed at keep moving at the slightest sound or heat variation.

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Inside the lab / IBM Research

To prevent this, great lengths were taken to ensure the stability of each of the rooms. They are built deep underground, which minimizes the amount of surface vibrations from cars or trains rolling nearby. To eliminate electromagnetic vibrations, from the outside and from the five other labs, each room is coated with an iron alloy that breaks them down. Most impressively, the apparatus used for the experiment rests on an independent concrete block that uses air-suspension to muffle any remaining vibration. Of course the problems of heat variation and acoustic wave propagation get their own high-tech solutions, too.

These precautions all aim at improving the precision of the research and, in return, the research itself provides a benchmark against which their efficiency can be effectively measured. It turns out the investment made by IBM and ETH Zurich was well worth it, with equipment reaching as much as three times the precision they showed in other environments. This threefold improvement so significant that it got manufacturers interested in testing their machines in this pristine environment.

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Schematic view of a lab / IBM Research

For more details, feel free to read this great Ars Technica article.

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