New Digs for VMIL Open Up Possibilities

Remodeling work on the 4th floor will not only add more space to the Visualization, Media, and Imaging Laboratory (VMIL), it will also help provide for a more creative working environment for its staff and the people who use its facilities.

The Beckman Institute's Imaging Technology Group (ITG) has always been a leading edge facility for helping researchers with their imaging needs, with state-of-the-art imaging, 3-D printing, and microscopy equipment and a staff that knows how to best use that equipment.

"Some of the idea with this, too, is it will be a more dynamic, creative environment."
Darren Stevenson, VMIL manager

Divided into two parts, the Visualization, Media, and Imaging Laboratory (VMIL) on the 4th floor and the Microscopy Suite in the basement, the ITG's knowledgeable staff and the capabilities of its technology have always offered researchers the possibility of visualizing their work in innovative ways. What hasn't been offered is a place in the VMIL where creative interactions between its staff and researchers could flower. That is changing with a remodeling job for the VMIL that will provide an environment that is more conducive to creativity, problem-solving, and better service for VMIL users, as well as more space and better working conditions for its staff.

Workers have expanded VMIL's offices in the northwest section of the 4th floor and created a large new room containing an enclosed room dedicated to its 3-D printer. The room's main area will house an improved photography setup that includes a ceiling-mounted projector, a new meeting table, and more space in which to add equipment in the future.

VMIL manager Darren Stevenson said the new facilities will improve their operation in several ways.

"It will definitely expand and improve our 3-D printing capabilities," he said. "We'll have a better printer in there. The photography setup will be much better because of the air table and the projector.

"Then the overall goal is that this will actually be less of a crowded space," Stevenson added. "The meeting table is a place for researchers and staff to meet and talk. There is no place in here now where you can do that; there is a computer at every chair. A lot of times our people who do animation and photography, they will have a faculty member or a graduate student they have been working with in the room and they need to talk about their project. So (the new space) is a place to sit and talk and collaborate."

The creation of a place for productive interactions will be one of the biggest benefits of the new space, Stevenson said.

"We've been acquiring equipment for the last five years for this lab, and not much has really been taken out," he said. "Some of the idea with this, too, is it will be a more dynamic, creative environment. Putting up these whiteboards, simple stuff like that. People can work on projects and solve problems. It appeared to be more of a traditional computer lab, where you had 18 computers running and 18 chairs. Now it will be a more attractive place for people to come to."

Stevenson said work on the remodeling project has been going well. "The guys working on it, they're doing an awesome job.

The 3-D printer has been in the back of the VMIL, where dust from its operation filtered throughout the room. In addition, models that were created in the 3-D printer on the 4th floor had to be taken down to the Microscopy Suite's wet lab, which has a fume hood, in order to apply the glue and the finishing coats on the samples. Now the 3-D printer will have its own enclosed area in the rear of the new room with glass doors in the front and a separate room with a fume hood.

"It'll all be contained in one place," Stevenson said. "Some models were broken transporting them because they were still fragile, so the idea here is to print, walk over and immediately start the gluing and infiltrating process, all in this lab. It's a 3-D print finishing room."

Moving the 3-D printer also opens up space in the original room. Stevenson said the plans are to add new equipment into the space now available.

The new room will also be able to house additional equipment, including possibly a cyberscanner for medical and other applications. For now the room will feature the meeting table and an improved photography setup. The ceiling-mounted projector will allow researchers to view their samples on a large scale on the wall.

"So you can see a huge real-time output of your image," Stevenson said. "You can output the image to the projector and get this huge, beautiful display of it."

The photography area will also feature a vibration isolation table for imaging samples.

"If you're photographing something like a micron scale piece of metal, you can get a picture of it that's shaky and it's just a nightmare," Stevenson said. "That's one of the biggest upgrades, in addition to the 3-D printing; the photography will be much better."

In addition to the added space, there will be a new set of doors leading to the VMIL, with digital displays located on them to show off some of the work done in the lab.

While the facilities have changed, the service will remain the same, Stevenson said. "We are always there to help people out."