The physics complex, donated by George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell, serves multiple user groups: undergraduate degree candidates, undergraduates taking core courses, graduate students and faculty teaching and/or doing research, administrators and scholars from all over the world attending conferences and special events. The two linked buildings – a 5-story physics teaching and research center and the elliptical Institute for Theoretical Physics and Astronomy – are planned for these overlapping uses by providing alternative circulation paths. At the same time, the location of stairs, lounges and conference rooms encourages social interaction and a sense of community. A tiered divisible University-wide lecture hall brings non-physics students to the facility.
MGA&D had conducted an earlier Campus Precinct Master Plan that studied the fragmented locations of departmental facilities and recommended sites for future buildings, additions, and open space, including stormwater management and sustainable landscape, initiating University-wide programs for sustainable design. The plan recommended consolidating physics facilities on the current site. The Mitchell buildings, oriented to avoid exposure to the southwestern sun, are energy efficient. Under-floor air systems reduce the size of air handlers and fans, the atrium is used as a return air path, eliminating some ductwork, and window light shelves introduce daylight and reduce energy loads. Multiple green roofs and gardens are irrigated by collected storm water and AHU condensate.
The Physics Building contains state-of-the-art research labs and six general purpose teaching rooms with their own chemical labs. Five laser research labs are organized around a central laser hall with fan filter units providing a clean air environment. Clean rooms and research labs are shielded and feature vibration control and electrical isolation for physics experiments and nanotechnology research. In contrast, the Institute is reserved for conference facilities and the 200-seat Stephen Hawking Auditorium in the lower level, with offices above. A five-story atrium provides easy visual and physical access between floors and encourages social interaction among diverse groups of users.