5 Amazing Architectural Experiments Shaped by Science

A collection of experiments so massive they operate on an architectural scale.

Zachary Edelson Zachary Edelson

Early modernist architects were fascinated by gigantic grain silos, sleek steam-liners and smooth aircraft fuselages. They were inspired by objects that embodied the 20th century’s technological progress: unadorned curves and surfaces for a high-speed and functional age. While automobiles and jumbo jets have long since left the architectural limelight, and these days “sci-fi” architecture is usually code for LEDs and parametric curves, today’s science and industry can still offer some fascinating spaces. Much like their early-20th-century predecessors, these are designs born totally of function, and their surreal appearance can come as a shock.

Kamioka Observatory, ICRR (Institute for Cosmic Ray Research), The University of Tokyo/Divulgação via terra

Mark Waugh via Nelly Benhayoun Studio

Kamioka Observatory, Gida, Japan

The Super-Kamiokande, in operation since 1996, is located 1,000 feet underground within an old mine. The space is 136 feet tall and 129 feet in diameter and holds 50,000 tons of ultra-pure water. Its purpose? To capture fleeting evidence of the neutrino subatomic particle. Its depth in the earth prevents interference from cosmic background radiation (the ambient energy located throughout the galaxy). When a neutrino interacts with a water molecule’s electron, it triggers a flash of light that can be detected by the thousands of sensors that line the walls.

Image courtesy of CERN via Interactions

ATLAS Experiment at CERN, Switzerland

ATLAS is one of the seven particle detectors that comprises the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). At nearly 8,000 tons, 150 feet long and 82 feet in diameter, the device records the collision of protons accelerated through the LHC’s 17 miles of tunnels. The amount of information it can record is staggering: 1 petabyte per second, or 1 billion megabytes. This device was instrumental in the recent discovery of the Higgs-Boson particle.

Image via ExtremeTech

Image via Stanford Energy Club

Fusion Ignition Cambers, National Ignition Facility (Top), California, and Wendelstein 7-X(Bottom), Germany

Fusion is often described as the holy grail of clean energy: power derived from the joining of atoms (as opposed to conventional nuclear power, in which uranium or plutonium atoms break apart into smaller atoms). Achieving a fusion reaction involves using lasers to heat a small amount of matter (usually hydrogen isotopes) to millions of degrees Celsius. This forms an explosive plasma that must be contained within a magnetic chamber (see above). There have been numerous efforts to achieve a fusion reaction that produces more energy than it consumes, and while progress has been made, the target goal remains elusive.

Image courtesy Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory via Interactions

The Sudbury Neutrino Observatory, Ontario, Canada

This neutrino observatory operates much like the Super-Kamiokande; however, it takes a wholly different form: a 40-foot-diameter acrylic vessel holding 1,100 tons of water. The acrylic tank was supported by the nearly 56-foot-diameter geodesic superstructure seen above. Operating from 1999 to 2006, this device was located 6,800 feet underground and lined with the same detectors as could be found in its Japanese counterpart.

Images via LIGO Laboratory

LIGO(Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory), Hanford Site, Washington

The LIGO operates on the scale of landscape around it, sending out two bare concrete structures 2.5 miles from its main facility. As its name suggests, the LIGO aims to observe the effects of gravity waves or distortions in the fabric of space caused by massive objects such as binary stars or black holes. In the main facility, a laser is split into two beams that travel the length of the two structures. They bounce back and cancel each other out at the source unless a gravity wave interferes and distorts the 2.5-mile distance. So far, the sensors have not proven sensitive enough to detect such a phenomenon, but the facility is currently undergoing upgrades.