Laboratories are specialized technical spaces in which complex and potentially dangerous procedures may be carried out. Not only do these areas need to comply with all institutional and regulatory laws pertaining to workplace health and safety, they also need to ensure that an efficient environment is created that supports interdisciplinary research and communication between scientists, students and other visitors to the lab.
Decide what types of experiments will take place and what type or classification of scientists will work in the space. For example, will molecular biologists carry out gene cloning work, or will experimental physicists perform signal processing work? These will determine what areas area needed in the lab. Also determine how many staff will be working in the space for the next 5 years, or longer if that is appropriate.
Analyze the floor plan carefully before stepping into the actual space. Look for areas with ventilation, emergency exits, passageways and corridors, plumbing and electrical outlets, communications ports and so forth. These are areas that must not be obstructed by either furniture or equipment. Then, walk around the space itself to ensure that no other areas have been overlooked. Take photographs using a digital camera to record images of the space, and take any measurements that will help when deciding placement of furniture and machinery, such as the height of wall space under a window or the distance to a door to prevent blocking access to it.
Assign experimental space and office space. Experimental spaces include contamination, containment, machinery, experimental, data acquisition and data analysis areas. For example, a molecular biology laboratory will contain all of these, and most must be spaced a sufficient distance away to prevent contamination and to minimize infiltration of biohazards (noxious vapors) into nonexperimental spaces, such as the office or study areas. Note that machinery spaces may require their own dedicated room, for example, liquid nitrogen tanks will need a special temperature control within the room that is unsuitable for working in for long durations. In addition, floor-standing centrifuges are noisy and dangerous, as are large irradiators, and will often require a room with a lockable door. For experimental spaces, sketch out the dimensions of laboratory-grade furniture (benches, desks, equipment shelves, wash areas) on the architectural floor plan. For office spaces, do the same for office furniture and computing equipment such as large floor-standing printers or computer servers.
Consider establishing rest areas such as a tea room or common area. These must be located away from the contamination areas of the laboratory, usually separated by an approved-access-only door. It is also ideal for such areas to house personal items so a locker area or personal storage cupboards can be situated here, which would also enable staff to change out of their clothes and into any special laboratory grade ones, such as scrub suits.
Separate office areas can be created for senior laboratory staff who require more private space by either placing this within the center of the lab to encourage communication with other staff or just outside the lab to prevent contamination of their workspace. This is entirely at the preference of the laboratory head, but regulations regarding biohazard movement between these areas should be obeyed. Storage spaces for archived data, computer disks, books and other uncontaminated laboratory essentials should also be available in this space; however, it is also common to have such areas within the laboratory itself.
- Building Type Basics for Research Laboratories; Daniel Watch; 2001
- At the Bench: A Laboratory Navigator; Kathy Barker; 1998
- Design and Planning of Research and Clinical Laboratory Facilities; Leonard Mayer; 1995
Palmer Owyoung holds a Master of Arts in international business from the University of California at San Diego and a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from the University of California at Santa Barbara and is a trained molecular biologist. He has been a freelance writer since 2006. In addition to writing, he is a full-time Forex trader and Internet marketer.