Liveblogging the 2008 NC Science Blogging Conference - Duke Smart Home tour

The opening act of the 2008 NC Science Blogging Conference was a series of lab tours, a pretty swell on-the-ground look at the work of local scientists.  Our options included the DIVE, the EPA's local shop, and the Duke Lemur Center, among others, but I went for the Home Depot Smart Home, and took an unreasonable amount of photos.  I don't have a whole lot of time to write tonight, so there's only a bit of text here so far.  I'll add more later if I can.

For a little background, the Smart Home was conceived to allow students to combine their living space with intellectual pursuits.  Ten students live here at a time, and must apply for residence with a project in mind to pursue during their residence.  As far as dorms go, this is pretty swank:

 

That's the common area.  

Our fearless tour guide was Mark, a resident who was also heavily involved in the design and construction process with the Pratt School of Engineering over the last few years.  

The total construction cost for the house was about $2.5 million, most provided by the multiple corporate sponsors that Duke attracted to the project, including Home Depot, Bovis Lende Lease, Kohler, LG, Siemens, Dow, and GE.  The full list, if you're interested:

I'm mostly going to let the photos (for which I didn't have to use flash because of the multiple south-facing windows!) tell the story, but I will mention some of the highlights of living in this dorm. First, the thing is brand new; Mark reported that the grand opening was in November, and students just moved in at the start of the spring semester, 10 days ago.  Other things that I would have loved to have as an undergrad: a media room with 3 LCD TVs, DVDs, video game consoles, the works; "wet" and "dry" labs to work on experiments; 150 ethernet ports throughout the house; and large double-occupancy rooms, most with vaulted ceilings!  The way I see it, if you're going to commit to studying your own home, it may as well be in comfortable surroundings. 

Front of the house

 

One of the two 2nd floor balconies, with solar panels donated by BP. The panels, while not directly running the house, contribute electricity to the grid equivalent to about 25% of the house's electricity usage.

 

Back of the house; the exterior is made of a synthetic composite, and I'd imagine it helps keep the house cool in those NC summers.

 

 

TV in the refrigerator! :D  It's connected to the internet so you can get a weather forecast with your breakfast even without using the TV.  (Side note: this reminds me of my trip to Las Vegas last summer, where we had a TV embedded in our bathroom mirror.  Totally superfluous, but still really really cool.)

 

Carpet. Rather than replacing the whole thing due to wear and tear, the approximately 18" X 18" inch squares can be individually removed and replaced. Folks from the NC Museum of Life and Science on the tour reported that they have this as well.

There are some downsides in the house, of course.  Mark reported to us that the soundproofing leaves something to be desired.  We could certainly hear the plumbing while we sat in the media room, for example.  Also, some of the built-in features are a bit too "built-in" for my tastes; each room has one desktop attached to the wall, which is not my cup of tea.  In most cases, of course, being a Smart Home resident means that you can undertake fixes to these problems and you'll see immediate benefit if you succeed.  If I get a free moment this weekend, I have some thoughts about this that I'd like to expand upon.

"Clean" lab.  Still moving in here.

 

"Dirty" lab.  Again, still moving in.

 

 And here we are leaving ...

 

I'll report back from the main conference events tomorrow!