More than just a place to house scientific tools, modern day laboratories are multidisciplinary spaces where learning and teaching go hand-in-hand with research and development. Thermo Fisher Scientific ANZ product manager Marion Weimar discusses the three biggest trends shaping the labs of tomorrow.
Modern labs have grown beyond being just safe, efficient facilities where they house the best scientific tools. They are evolving into open, collaborative workspaces designed for lifelong learning, teaching and cross-functional teamwork. They are growing into micro-communities in their own right, and lab designers are reframing the concept of a laboratory to keep up with the way scientific research is evolving. Here are the three biggest trends in modern lab design.
1. Open-plan and multi-functional design
Gone are the days when labs were tucked away in isolated department buildings, operating in lonely silos. Today, laboratory buildings are organised by function rather than discipline. They are flexible by design, built to be reconfigurable as teams and functions evolve over their lifetime. Modern labs are multifunctional spaces and have to handle collaborative research activities as well as teaching duties without interrupting the workflows of the people involved.
The rise of open-design and configurable spaces in laboratory settings is a reflection of these needs, focusing on maximising the utility of available spaces and making it convenient to share costly equipment and resources. Benching now takes the form of a kit of parts, which can be readily reconfigured or removed, with services such as power outlets and exhaust vents designed in a repetitive, modular fashion. Many teaching laboratories are set up with movable lab tables and seats to support student projects, lectures and blended learning. Even though the construction costs of a highly customisable laboratory can be higher, facility managers can see the payback every time a simple change is done by lab personnel without the need for contracting outside help.
In terms of infrastructure, these labs need to address numerous ‘styles’ of laboratory function, making them service-intensive. The spaces need to accommodate all kinds of bulky, power-hungry equipment that changes frequently, as well as keep up with shifts in research focus and protocols.
2. Designing labs for the digital age
Modern lab work needs powerful computers to run everything from instruments, robotics, modelling and imaging, to admin and monitoring tasks. Making sure the devices have access to enough power and cooling is a critical consideration for lab infrastructure. Computing demands grow with time, so making sure there’s enough room to upgrade equipment is vital to futureproofing the lab. Most data-rich scientific applications are not compatible with current wireless capabilities, so hard-wired data connections and conduits will still be necessary for the foreseeable future. Your lab may even need dedicated server rooms, which have major space, cooling and power requirements that need to be accounted for in the early planning stages.
3. Sustainable design
In recent years, there has been a big movement towards sustainable design in the laboratory space. Energy efficiency, sustainable construction and ergonomic spaces are rightfully gaining prominence as lab architecture grows from a purely functional philosophy to a place that prioritises environmental impact, health and safety. Making use of natural light, reducing carbon footprint, adopting recycling, conserving energy and water, and minimising the risks of hazardous or toxic substances are major design considerations for any modern laboratory. By using green roofs, solar energy and passive cooling structures, labs can significantly reduce operational costs and energy demands.
Science is a constantly evolving discipline and laboratories must be able to accommodate the constant change. Modern lab architecture is embracing this philosophy, and the trends we’re seeing in lab construction are reflecting the way scientific research is done today.