Historically, when designing a laboratory the process was driven by the end research goal. Identifying the needs of the lab— whether it be biological, chemical, or any other type—was the first step. From this idea, a specialized facility focusing on a linear method to achieve success, typically in a single area of research, would be born. Wet laboratories are an example of this: centralized, repetitive wet benches with a perimeter of fume hoods firmly bolted to the floor, allowing the space to be used for performing standard procedures.
Presently, innovations across scientific disciplines have sparked inquiry into whether this laboratory design remains effective. Every day the lines separating scientific disciplines continually blur as researchers collaborate with one another to complete research projects. Further, to keep up with growing competition in their markets, laboratories are constantly increasing their scope and experimental capabilities. To accommodate these needs, many laboratories have begun to adopt flexible designs.
While the initial setup is expensive, a flexible lab allows areas of the facility to be customized to suit any need. “Designing a flexible space can be more costly up front, but the downstream costs of having to reconfigure are much, much lower,” explains Dr. Richard Bozzato, senior advisor for health sciences at MaRS Discovery District (Toronto, ON). The versatility of being able to move objects such as benches, fume hoods, or even the walls themselves can allow researchers to quickly adapt to any change in process, while avoiding the costly downtime associated with renovations. Specialty laboratory furniture manufacturers, such as Mott Manufacturing (Brantford, ON) and PSA Laboratory Furniture LLC (New Berlin, WI), specialize in creating flexible systems for any laboratory.
For those who desire flexibility and the ability to collaborate with other researchers, there exists the incubator-style laboratory. Innovation hubs—such as the MaRS Discovery District—have paved the way for such facilities. Incubators can house multiple research teams across different disciplines in modular spaces, fostering a collaborative culture. “For example, one company may be developing a bioprocess to produce ethanol or another renewable, and it could be next door to a company that is creating an expression system for therapeutic proteins. While different, they are similar in the sense that they have similar scientific needs and requirements,” says Bozzato. Being immersed in a collaborative setting goes a long way toward helping individual companies prosper.
Beyond the ability to quickly update procedures and collaborate with others, incubator-style laboratories also provide access to a wide range of laboratory equipment—or help acquire unique instruments. “For those that require nonroutine instrumentation, we assess equipment needs on an individual basis and work with them to either source the necessary equipment or help introduce them to the appropriate vendors,” explains Melinda Richter, head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation—JLABS (San Francisco, CA). “We continually assess our resident companies’ equipment and instrumentation needs.”
With a rapidly changing landscape of scientific research, laboratories and researchers will need to “adapt or die” in order to maintain their place. By using a flexible lab design—and collaborating with other researchers—they are assured of being able to quickly tackle any challenge and keep up with the evolving culture of innovation.
What about lab seating and flooring?
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