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A "Green" Design for Princeton's New Chemistry Building: A Whole-Building Approach to Low-Energy, High-Performance Design

Eileen Zerba, Ph.D., and Tim Cheston, Princeton University

University Chemistry laboratories offer three challenges to sustainable design: their fume-hood intensive nature, strict safety requirements, and high-performance research needs. These demands require a unique approach to sustainable design.

In relocating the Princeton University Chemistry laboratory, the Princeton Environmental Institute, led by Dr. Eileen Zerba and a team of undergraduates, has created a design to minimize environmental impacts, reduce emissions, and improve health and safety conditions while optimizing "whole-building" energy efficiency and functionality. By assessing current energy use, benchmarking energy use of similar laboratories and establishing guidelines and goals for the new building, the study has found it is no longer about high performance research versus low-energy design, but the two goals increasingly overlap.

The overall goal of the proposal was to build a larger building without a net energy increase from the current chemistry building energy use. The study also examined the ways to maximize the gains of one's environmental stewardship beyond the energy savings of the building itself, through educating others, becoming green certified, creating media attention, and capitalizing on all local, state, and federal rebates. In the end, the study proves invaluable to any university or research chemistry laboratory to recognize the specific needs of the laboratory, but also shows how universities and their undergraduates can serve in green design to work with on- and off-campus partners in creating green designs. In essence, the relocation study demonstrates how universities can move onto the path of building green, by analyzing the unique challenges and opportunities offered by universities today.

Labs21 Connection:

The chemistry relocation proposal adopts Labs21 Approach principles throughout the study with three overall foci: a whole buildings approach, life-cycle cost assessments, and modular design. The study itself was inspired by attendance at the 2004 Labs21 Conference and highlights all elements of the Labs21 Approach specific to a mid-atlantic chemistry laboratory, from cutting-edge fume hoods to green materials to paperless laboratories. The design also aims to incorporate renewable energy sources, using full wall-height windows, a four story atrium, dimmable lighting systems, a green roof, geothermal heat pumps, water collection systems, and explores possible PV and wind technologies.

One especially noteworthy finding of the study is the ability to split the building into fume hood intensive and non-fume hood intensive wings to minimize duct sizes and to capitalize on right-sizing and pressurization techniques. The study also takes a noteworthy approach to analyzing the specific needs of universities from the desires for student/faculty interaction and the particular financing options for green design. Finally, the study takes a unique approach to integrating the resources and perspectives of undergraduates into green design.


Eileen Zerba, Ph.D., received her B.A. and M.S. in Biology at Occidental College, and Ph.D. in Zoology at Arizona State University. Her doctoral work focused on the effects of temperature on energy metabolism and skeletal muscle function in birds. Following her doctoral studies, she joined the Department of Physiology and Institute of Gerontology at The University of Michigan as a postdoctoral fellow. Her postdoctoral research addressed the effects of aging and temperature on contraction-induced skeletal muscle injury and recovery in mammals. At the University of Michigan, she also taught Introductory Biology laboratories and conducted research in Physiological Ecology in the Department of Biology. Eileen then joined the Department of Biology at Colgate University as a faculty member, where she taught courses in Ecology, Environmental Physiology, Environmental Studies, Vertebrate Zoology, and mentored undergraduate student research. Her research program at Colgate centered on the physiological and behavioral responses of animals to variation in thermal microclimates and global climate change. In 2000, Eileen joined the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI) at Princeton University as an Instructor and Director of PEI Environmental Studies laboratories. In 2004, Eileen launched a new and distinctive teaching model, "The Living Laboratory Teaching Model." In this model, inquiry-based laboratories and summer undergraduate research focus on interdisciplinary project-oriented studies of local environmental problems that are applicable to state, regional, and global environmental issues. This educational model is also based on values of stewardship to enrich and reinforce academic learning at all levels through community collaborations, both within and outside Princeton University. In keeping with this goal, Eileen is also committed to outreach programs and the Community-Based Learning Initiative Program at Princeton University.

Tim Cheston is an undergraduate at Princeton University, class of 2008, pursuing a Bachelors of Arts by majoring in the Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs. Before entering Princeton, he grew up in Falls Church, Virginia, just outside Washington D.C., where the extreme humidity almost forced his interest in environmental issues of climate change and sustainability. He graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. At Princeton, he spends his time as President of Oxfam Princeton, and is involved with the Student Trade Justice Campaign. He has also been at the forefront of the campus movement toward sustainable practices, especially in terms of sustainable building practices. He has helped write the Chemistry Relocation Study which looks at implementing a whole building approach to sustainable building for the new Chemistry building on campus.

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