January 26, 2005

RTI International to Build $20 Million, State-of-the-Art Science & Engineering Building

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  • Lisa Bistreich-Wolfe
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  • Kami Spangenberg
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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. -- RTI International today broke ground on a new $20 million, 78,000 square-foot science and engineering building at its headquarters on Cornwallis Road.

The state-of-the-art building, scheduled for first-phase completion in mid-2006, will house advanced laboratories for conducting research in fields such as nanotechnology and environmental technology, as well as projects related to homeland security.

Speaking at the groundbreaking, RTI President Victoria Haynes said the new facility will accommodate recent and projected growth in RTI’s science and engineering programs.

"This building represents a major investment in the future of science and engineering research at RTI," Haynes said. "If we want to attract and retain the best and the brightest scientists in competitive research fields, we need to provide them with the modern technology and tools they require to reach their goals in a wide range of scientific disciplines. This new facility will provide those resources."

RTI is based in Research Triangle Park and is the nation’s third largest independent research and development organization. In addition to its headquarters, RTI maintains eight regional offices in the United States and four overseas, serving both government and commercial clients.

RTI occupies 24 buildings on its main campus and elsewhere in RTP, and leases space for its regional offices. The new facility is RTI’s largest construction project to date in terms of both square footage and overall investment.

The science and engineering building will house research programs in energy technology, analytical chemistry, microanalytical sciences, exposure analysis research, and aerosol technology. The building has been designed to accommodate the expansion of these programs and the addition of others.

Plans call for the building’s labs to be built and equipped according to the specifications of RTI researchers.

As one example, RTI’s microscopy services will be consolidated on a special vibration-free slab in the new facility and will include a new environmental scanning electron microscope. Researchers could use the device to analyze pharmaceutical compounds in their natural state, to observe the auto-assembly of nanostructures, or -- in an application with homeland security implications -- to observe gaseous attacks on remote sensor surfaces.

The new labs also will enable RTI to pursue additional projects in pharmaceutical research, one of the institute’s areas of emphasis. Some labs will include lighting with no ultraviolet content, a requirement in working with photo-sensitive drug compounds.

The building will have a backup electrical system to guarantee the safe storage of compounds and other degradable samples that often must be preserved for years at a time.

Satinder Sethi, RTI’s senior vice president for science and engineering, said the building would help to foster the institute’s longstanding emphasis on cross-disciplinary research. RTI’s inhalation therapeutics program, which bridges pharmaceutical and aerosol research, is one initiative that stands to benefit.

"Having so many talented people under one roof will encourage greater collaboration," Sethi said. "We aim to ease current crowding among scientists working in these emerging research fields on our campus, but also to accommodate the expansion of these programs as well as the addition of other new ones."

The new building will also help RTI to consolidate its growing nanotechnology research. One component of the institute’s nanotechnology research program is electrospinning -- the process of spinning fibers with nanoscale dimensions to create uniform fibers. A new electrospinning lab will further this effort.

In the area of energy technology, the new facility will house RTI’s rapidly expanding energy research and development programs related to hydrogen production and storage, use of biomass and other renewable fuels, and utilization of coal and other fossil energy sources to produce electricity and synfuels. RTI won an R&D 100 Award last year from R&D Magazine for a material to remove sulfur from coal-derived fuel gas. This technology, which enables the use of coal to produce a clean fuel gas as a substitute for imported fuels, has just reached the stage of commercial demonstration.

To make certain types of work possible, the building will have high-bay lab spaces and 16-foot-high ceilings, allowing for the running of tests that otherwise would have to be conducted at field sites.

The building will consist of two wings connected by a middle section of conference rooms and a lobby with a two-story atrium. The first wing will be completed, outfitted, and occupied next year. The second wing will be completed as a shell ready to be occupied as programs grow or new ones are added.