Pimp my lab

Mar 25 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

One of the cool things about my imminent professory situation is that my wet lab is being built out from a previously non-lab-containing space. While this is awesome because everything I get will be shiny and new, this also means is that I have a million decisions to make!

I've already discussed the broad-strokes layout with the architects, and given the size (med-small) and shape (funky) of the space, I think we're on the right track. What I want from you, dear readers, is help with the details. What do you love and hate about your labs? I'm talking drawer size, outlet height, cabinets vs open shelves, etc!

I posed this question on twitter and got a ton of useful responses, but I thought I'd open it up to the twitter-resistant among my readers, as well as allow for descriptions unrestricted by character limits.

So, fire away in the comments!

44 responses so far

  • Zen Faulkes says:

    You cannot have too many power outlets.

    • D. C. Sessions says:

      Nor too many circuits. Sub-panels are relatively cheap, but make rational provisioning much easier. Not to mention the fact that they do failure isolation much better, both in preventing disasters and tracking down less dramatic failures.

      • D. C. Sessions says:

        And in case they're not standard, make sure that at the very least all of the outlets that get anywhere near the benches are GFI protected, and then put testing the suckers into the same schedule as equipment calibration and maintenance.

  • DrLizzyMoore says:

    Glad that you opened this up...all the info you want and more! 140 characters is too hard.
    I was fortunate to move into a 'new' lab, which is about 1000 sq ft. My office is right outside. There is a short 'hallway' where I have my larger cabinets for glassware and tissue culture stuff and my chromatagraphy frig, -20, etc. It will also house my new ultra high speed centifuge, when my grant $$ gets released. The rest of my lab is square with an alcove for my biosafety cabinet and CO2 incubators (I took out some shelving to accomodate this, but since it is in an alcove, it does not eat up other usable space). There are fixed cabinets along on the walls and in the middle I have 6 (5ft long and 2.5 ft deep) lab benches. I keep 4 in the middle and two on the ends. These have wheels and can be moved. All of the electricity and gas are delivered through flexible tubing from the ceiling..so all of this moves as the needs of my lab change. I do not have vacuum. This is a bummer! Above the lab benches are 2 open shelves. Under all of my benches, I have more movable storage in the form of units that either contain drawers or a single 2-shelf cabinet. These are about 2 ft high. There are 4 outlets, one gas port and 2 tech ports/bench. I haven't used the tech ports yet, but everything else is adequate and I haven't had to put a power strip anywhere yet.

    You will need fixed heavy duty benches for your centrifuges, microscopes, what-have-you's. Make sure that some of your power outlets are wired into the auxillary/generator power, in case of an outage. These outlets should be a different color than the other ones, so that you will know YEARS from now which one is which. Also in your fume hood, try to the get the storage cabinets to be split into appropriate flammable storage and a separate acid storage (with the correct liner). I have my chemicals in shelves along the edge of my lab. These are tall shelves above the permenent bench, so for a short person, they are not easily accessible and harder to organize. I wish that I had a tall enclosed cabinet for chemicals. There is some desk space in the lab, but I may swap that out for more bench top surface...depending on how my lab grows. Oh-I stack all the shelves along the edge of the lab high-since the sprinklers are in the middle of the room, I can get away w/ it w/o getting in trouble with the firemen. :) Good luck!!

  • CoR says:

    I have about 1000 sq feet as well. My office is within my lab which I do not like at all -- I'd rather have space away from the lab to separate my quiet hours from lab hours. Not sure if everyone would agree to that -- you have to have independent, self-motivated students if you are not the whip-wielding type. I like cabinets and shelves -- go for a mix cause some things (boxes) you'll want to keep around for shipping or whatnot and won't fit into a cabinet. Don't get a foot-pedal to control the faucet of a sink -- they never work out, although seem like a good idea. Think about your equipment and how best to fit the equipment you will buy -- I'm sure an admin type would hate that advice, but labs do get renovated down the line! If you need wide benches for a heavy centrifuge, then get wide benches.

    Also -- think about the possibility that you may, at some point in the future, have a handicapped student. One low bench that you could use for something else but then convert if needed would be pretty smart.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    And internet hook ups. Wireless always causes problems.

    What's twitter?

  • I agree with Zen and DrLizzy about outlets--lots and color coded. Also watch the placement--I have several useless outlets right behind or next to high use sinks.

    Get at least one high voltage outlet just in case, even if you don't need it. You may in the future, and it is way easier to install now.

    I have outlets that are on cables dangling from the ceiling that can retract in the center of my lab, along with movable tables. I love them--we got a bonus piece of equipment and reconfiguring was a snap!

    Cabinets with windows are really nice for glassware--you can see what you are looking for without opening everything. Drawers are better for small supplies. They are less likely to get lost. Get really deep cabinets in corners where you can shove cases of gloves, Kimwipes, pipette tips, etc. Get shelving going up as high as you can and a step ladder for the same purpose.

    We added ethernet (we use it for large file transfers so that wireless glitches are less painful) and made sure the phone was in a usable location, even though the architect didn't think about either of these things. Get a cordless--very useful for when you are getting technical help since it is easy to be right where you need to be. Leave a space for a lab computer to throw MSDS stuff on. Also useful as a file server.

    Make sure you don't have cabinets on every wall--you need spots for extra tables/equipment that stays on the floor. Plan the fridge doors so you can open them easily and without disrupting anything if your space is really funky.

  • Justin says:

    As a grad student, I think that there are certain items of awesomeness that can really help establish the culture of your lab... you are going to want grad students and post docs that have the same perspectives on awesomeness that you do, so I would say make sure that you bring in at one substantial "thing" that is somewhat superfluous, but sets a tone for the lab. For example,

    I rotated in a lab that had an awesome little "comforts" corner, primarily for the grad students and postdocs. It had an automatic espresso machine (everyone brought their own mugs), a "chocolate" drawer that was always stocked, and a "meds" drawer that had basic meds... ibuprofen, TUMS, etc. The message it gave me from the prof was "I want your basic needs to be met while you are in the lab."

    Another lab I rotated with had a balcony. Though fortuitous, it was the way that the lab took advantage of it that made it awesome. During the summer, they setup a projector and have movie nights. The PIs (it was a shared lab space) also allowed dogs in the lab (which was very fun) and the balcony had a fenced-off area for the dogs for times when they weren't allowed in the lab-space.

    My own lab has a great dedicated and well stocked work bench, with every tool or piece of hardware I could need. Most new labs seem to setup a workbench as an afterthought, but when I first saw it, I knew that my PI had a hands-on DIY approach and valued "the right tool for the job." Granted, we are an electrophysiology lab.

    I guess my overall point is that the choices you make will reflect on your approach to your work and potential grad students and postdocs will be able to read it.

    And as Zen said, you can never have too many outlets.

  • Dr 29 says:

    Since tweetdeck is being a d!ck, here is one important one for me:

    @doc_becca also, make sure that phone is located easily and is not over someone's head or desk, as it will be in constant use and you don't want your lab tech or students to kick that ringing piece of technology to hell.

  • chall says:

    Depending on if there are many exit/entries to the lab - make sure that equipment that needs some space is not located right by there (I know, it sounds like a given but all my labs have ended up with that snafu.... mainly due to "electrical outlets" and "actual space on the floor compared to the bench".

    I'd also recommend to have glass window on the cabinets to make it easier to scan for the stuff you need. Especially if you are putting "things for everyone" on top of people's benches. There is nothing as disturbing as interuptions to open cabinets and look for something that's not even in there.

    I personally like having an option of sitting down by my lab bench i.e. I like that "hole for legs". I've been at a place where that wasn't an option and even if it worked, I was kind of annoyed (if we're making wishlists I mean?)

    Oh, some kind of back up electrical thingy for the freezer - in case you have that in the lab?!

    I can't access twitter during day times so I've decided so far not to join... :(

  • Dr 29 says:

    I think I mentioned this before, but just in case. My lab was very, VERY computer intensive, hence why I had the tweet about the comfy chairs. The chairs in my PhD lab had adjustable everything, not only up and down but depth and what-not, and the arm-rests were adjustable, up and down and in and out ... very helpful.

    Since we spent SO many hours sitting in front of a computer, our keyboard rest-thingie was adjustable too. I changed the position every day and multiple times a day.

    If you can (and your research uses a lot of computer/imaging time) get big ass monitors, with maybe a filter so that the brightness is not as bad on the eyes. I got used to it and it doesn't bother me, but for newbies it could give them headaches (they did, when I was rotating).

    We also had a medicine cabinet stocked with NSAIDs and non-NSAIDs (for peeps like me who see aspirin and swell up). And we had a communal filing cabinet stocked with pens, yellow and white pads for writing, sticky notes of multiple size and tons of clips in different shapes and sizes.

    Have one or (preferably) two phones (same extension, just two of them, like at home). Cordless would be awesome. My PhD lab had cordless V-tech phones, one on each side of the lab and it was especially helpful when I was typing something the boss was telling me from the office and I needed both hands free so I could work and type while we were discussing ideas. A cordless phone is also helpful for when you need to look up quickly the name or cat number of a reagent over on the other side of the lab.

    A desk for each person, if possible. It's nice to have a nice little area that's not for common use where you can read, write and generally just have your things (secured, as Geeka suggested). If you can afford it, add individual work stations. We had these in the lab and it was wonderful not to have to share sticky keyboards and such with others.

    A filing cabinet or space for people, so that they can store their documents and papers.

    A nice little area where shared resources (programs, notes, calendar, protocols) are always located and stored.

    If I think of anything more I'll be sure to share.

  • chezjake says:

    Unless your windows are north facing, make sure you have some sort of adjustable blinds to block sun glare when necessary.

    Likewise, plan to locate microscopes and other optical gear where glare will never be a problem.

  • There is some desk space in the lab, but I may swap that out for more bench top surface...depending on how my lab grows.

    While this may sound appealing right now, as your lab grows, desk space will most likely end up more of a rate-limiter than bench space.

    • DrLizzyMoore says:

      There are separate office spaces (w/plenty of room) for grad students and post docs. These are right around the corner from my lab. Also, there are free spaces with chairs and tables in 'common areas' for undergrads....so I stand by swapping out desk space for bench space if necessary.

  • Allyson says:

    As a molecular evolution grad student, I agree with Justin on having one nice thing for those who live in lab. We have a full-size fridge for food including a freezer for food and dead animals, plus a kitchen area with coffee maker and microwave behind a door. That 7ftx10ft space doubles as an office for a postdoc/senior Ph.D.

    Not sure how much our requirements match, but we had desks for each student next to benches (3 big benches crossing lab with desks near the wall and space for big equipment on the aisle). Desks on each side of the bench had open space where monitors would be, so we can see each other and yell across lab. Much better than side-by-side cubicles facing the wall, also better than sharing computers.

    Two sinks are very helpful if people are eating in the lab. One is the lab sink and the other (can be bar-sized) has the coffee mugs above.

  • neurowoman says:

    Have your department of environmental safety and IACUC look over the plans to make sure you are not missing safety equipment, such as eyewashes, fire extinguishers, etc. If you have to install them later, that will come out of your grant $$ or startup and may be more expensive than installing in the first place. What you need depends on your work, so architects wouldn't necessarily know.

    Get house air, vacuum and gas lines, even if you're not sure you need them right now.

    Desk space for students! You can always double them as low bench space, but high benches are terrible substitute for desk space. Or be sure to negotiate for office space from the get go. Getting more space as time goes on can be extremely tricky. You will need more than the # of grad/postdocs, for techs, undergrads, rotation students.

  • Sink is too high, and the taps run a very low volume of water at very high pressure. I end up getting soaked every time I wash up.

    Also - are we not adults? Can we not have proper taps for the dH2O instead of the spring-loaded ones that you have to hold to stay on?

  • neurowoman says:

    Totally agree on comments for coffee/break room space even if there isn't room for a table - probably has to be separate from lab space by a wall and/or door for safety compliance. It makes lab much more hospitable and friendly, not to mention the science chatter over coffee or lunch is very productive. It's annoying that universities seem to think this is 'wasted' space (as if they weren't actual workplaces where people spend at least half their waking hours).

  • AHamdi5 says:

    A few things:
    1) Fume hoods. IF you need a good laminar flow hood, make sure you will have enough space for potential experiments, then up it by about 30%

    2) Air, Gas and vacuum lines. So CAN have too much, but having about 2 of each at each work space is a nice perk.

    3) Outlets. If wet work is a huge focus, have the outlets at the walls at bench height. A good extension cord is better than an outlet filled with chemicals. (No one is cautious enough with outlet controls.

    4) Fire extinguisher. Flames happen. You'll be amazed how people don't keep enough around.

    5) Break area/office space. You want a no glove/no samples zone so people and sit down near the lab without being covered in gear and able to enjoy a coffee or a quick snack while still able to keep an eye on experiments.

    6) Blinds. I can tell you, vacuum distillation is hard when you have a setting such staring you down. Plus you don't want people to know what time it is outside too often.

    7) Dedicated instrumentation zones. Some lobs keep them all piled in one corner ... that is hell. If you have more than one device, space them about around the lab if you can.

    8) Lab coat rack / safety gear near door. Obvious, and oh SO essential, but gets looked over pretty often.

  • Carolina (@braziliancakes) says:

    For the gas and vacuum outlets, I really like it when they jut out of the wall instead of the bench top. It opens a up a lot more space on the bench and is easier to access the valves when you're bench is crowded.

    Nice large bookshelves at each desk for communal resource books/catalogs as well as storing lab notebooks.
    I also like having shelves under the window. My desk is at the window and on my right I have an awesome storage space for papers, and more papers.

    A designated spot for manuals and software for programs and machines.

    And a glassware cabinet where you can fit all different size flasks and maybe beakers. Makes it really easy if it has sliding glass doors so you can see inside, and don't need to add any extra door space when deciding where it will fit.

  • HennaHonu says:

    I would make sure to get central air conditioning and heating, make sure the intake is far away from the exhaust, and consider a dehumidifying system. A lot of expensive instruments have ranges that they can operate in, but most research labs can't control temp/humidity. It can also be a huge problem when culturing. You should also have good air flow in the lab (for safety). Color code all the gas/vacuum/air lines also - and have symbols on the valves. Install lights and/or a calling system to notify you of power fluctuations/outage for all your incubators, freezers, and fridges. Plan on significant growth in area, people, and storage needs.

  • Bashir says:

    I 2nd non-equipment things, like good chairs and desk/table space.

  • icee says:

    I love tall counters/sinks. I'm the height of an average man and my back gets very sore after a day at a too-low bench. I don't think tall-ish counters are too much of a problem for shorter folk? I end up standing with my feet 3 feet apart to shorten myself to bench height. Squishy mats in front of benches are nice. So are Corian countertops.

    Make sure there's plenty of cut-outs for chairs to scoot under the counters. We don't have ANY in our lab and it causes a lot of strain to have to stand for all bench work, or to sit with knees bumping into cabinets. Makes it hard for multiple people to work at once. None of us has our desks in there - we're lucky to have other office space. Finding creative storage space is not too hard, but you can't do much about not being able to sit down at your bench!

    Have some blank wall space without benches/cabinets that you can fill in with toolboxes, desks, large equipment, etc. as your needs change. Also, get a good toolbox from Sears.

    Flat screen TV on the wall hooked up to a lab computer and a nice networked two-sided laser printer (and speakers). Will save TONS of time for everyone's printing (cuz some trainee will learn how to get everyone hooked up to it), and you can use the big TV for all sorts of cool stuff, including lab meetings, and tours. Also, make sure you get set up for a dedicated computer server, preferably hardwired to your experimental station computers for automatic backups etc. Employees' desktop and laptop computers can go through your building network to get to the server. This is an often overlooked lab essential, especially if you generate large data files or you share files often with collaborators. Put time and money into this and get it set up right from the start or you WILL lose/corrupt data at some point. Find a computer guru to help you order hardware and get it set up, and ask a computer-savvy trainee to be in charge of maintaining it.

    Plenty of freezer space (you can even stack two 3/4 size ones on top of each other! That's very efficient.) I love the fridges with the sliding glass doors, and the ones with ports for electrical cords for putting shakers and centrifuges inside.

    Set up automatic eBay searches for any rare or pricey equipment, especially if your research will grind to a screeching halt if it breaks. Always nice to have a spare one on hand for parts etc.

    I hope you come in when the facilities people have marked the ports for the vacuum, air, and gas, so that you can laugh loudly at all the "VAG" labels scribbled about your lab.

  • icee says:

    Oh, I forgot to add that it's nice to have at least one outlet that's on its own, dedicated circuit, preferably with a switch. This is good for equipment like fume hoods and mercury lamps. My fume hood blew the circuit once and shut off my incubator. That was bad.

  • Dr. O says:

    Phone outlets next to each pair of desks is great if you can swing it. Instead of everyone in the lab sharing a phone, it's nice to have separate lines coming through for 2-3 people at a time to share. Also prevents the situation where one person uses the "lab" phone in a common equipment space instead of at their desk. AND, at the desks, having a filing cabinet and shallower drawers is great use of space.

    Also, I like the open shelves above the bench, but closed cabinets and drawers below. On the open shelves, make sure there's a shield that keeps bottles from falling over the front (common problem here while preggos). We have roll-away cabinets in our lab that fit underneath the benches. They're fantastic. Some have drawers, others cabinets, and others a combination. The lab members have moved these around as the lab evolved to suit their needs. In fact, all of our lab furniture can be moved around (ie, it's not bolted to a wall/floor) to suit different needs, including the desks and lab benches...very nice if you're not sure yet what will work best.

    Also agree with having lots of outlets and ethernet connections, including outlets that are high-voltage AND several that run on any back-up power supply your institution provides. Ethernet connections at all the lab benches, too; you never know when you'll be putting in a new piece of equipment that runs on a computer. Also, if there's a wall that you can't imagine putting a piece of equipment against, get adjustable shelves put in. You can take them down if you find you need the space later. In the mean time, it's great for storage.

    Check your institutions requirements on chemical storage early on, too. Some require having all chemicals stored at "eye-level" or below; others don't. Very important when figuring out what your wall space will be used for!

  • Scientista says:

    regardless of your earthquake safety needs, I like bars across open shelving as an extra precaution against knocking things off said shelf. I am clumsy sometimes, and the bars limit that some.

    like everyone else has said, outlets, circuits, color-coded emergency power. If you need a -80 or other guaranteed temp freezer/incubator, it might be good to have a single room and have it wired so that if temp. or power failure alarms are triggered, you can have a service call you. Most of what I've seen with this type of service is a per room charge as opposed to a per item charge. I've seen this sort of thing save labs years of work when a freezer or frig. failed.

    beyond that, take copious notes about what you do and don't like about the lab you are currently doing experiments in. Then get the safety guidelines for the new institution and building.

    also, walk the space as the work is being done. if something turns out to be planned poorly, its better to catch it early - I've seen someone forget to put drainage in for an incubator and then have to do it after the fact. I guess that also means get a good look at your equipment and the requirements for said equipment.

    um, I think that's all. Good luck with your new space!!!!

  • Don't forget space under benches for legs so people can sit while pipetting. If you have cabinets below all the benches this can make sitting much for difficult while working at the bench.

  • Chris says:

    Good luck, that's a bizarre amount of things you're having to make decisions on! If you can, get separate office space. We have lab and office space separated and it has totally convinced me, even if walking back and forth, taking lab coats on and off etc can sometimes be a hassle. It makes eating etc at your desk much more comfortable (health & safety wise).
    People have suggested cordless phones which have their advantages but I would suggest one phone, with a cord, in a specific place (preferably with the emergency eyewash etc) for emergencies. Nothing worse than needing to call 999 and not finding the damn cordless phone... (and while I hope you never have to ring 999, that's probably unrealistic as even small things might make it necessary)

  • qaz says:

    I second the comments about desks and chairs. You will almost certainly underestimate how much time you (and your students) will be sitting at their desks, analyzing data, writing papers, etc. Make sure that those desks are ergonomically comfortable (keyboard trays, etc., as necessary) and have sufficient ethernet, power cable, and phone connections. It is also REALLY useful if you can get those desks in a NON-lab area so that the students can have food, drink, and caffeine while they're doing all that data-analyzing, paper-writing, etc.

  • anon says:

    Adding alcoves adds more wall space and outlets. The alcoves I had had a fume hood, freezers, chemicals, and bench space for balances on one side, low bench space with microscopes and incubators on the other side. Without the wall separating these two spaces, there is no way I would have been able to fit that all in. Make sure common work space has windows. For fuckssakes, people should not be forced to work in a cave.

  • NatC says:

    A couple of lab chairs that can be raised higher than normal, and a step stool for the short people in the lab. It sucks having to sit on the VWR catalog, or continuously asking people to reach shit down from the high shelves.
    And I'm totally with Funk Doctor X about leg space under the bench!

    Also, if you are doing animal work, a separate space (or at least a designated area of the lab) for surgery and other animal protocols.

  • Mom says:

    Lots of good suggestions! I would especially agree with:

    -knee space under the bench in several places
    -lots of electrical outlets, and make sure there are some up under the shelves which are over the lab benches
    -a couple of emergency outlets for critical things like freezers, incubators etc.
    -open shelves over benches, with a bar at the edge
    - deep drawers if possible, 6" or more - ours are too shallow to hold much of anything!
    - snack area is great, but I would keep it out of the main wet lab; that's a serious safety violation any place I've been
    - lots of data lines

    Can't wait to see the new space!!

  • Namnezia says:

    Light switches.

    When we moved to a new "green" building, all the light switches were automated, which meant you couldn't turn the lights off (which we need to do often for behavior and in vivo experiments). The architects didn't want to put them in either because I didn't initially specify that I needed them when I talked to them.

    If you do electrophysiology (or ever intend to do so) make sure you have a separate circuit for each rig.

    I concur with CPP, you should plan on having lots of desk space.

  • Dr 29 says:

    Agree with all of these comments, and to add to what @icee mentioned, if you can and have the money, invest in a local server or master computer that stores all your important files and backs up the data from all the other computers/workstations. We had this set up in the lab and our uni had their IT people also back up the data, but since we churned out gigantic files and such, it was just easier to have a local computer also dedicated to that. My boss and the IT peeps set it up and every night, after midnight or something, it would go through all of our workstations and save new data (whatever you generated today). My boss ultimately saved it to a tape system, which we kept locally and if we needed something quick we'd get it in a matter of minutes, and didn't cost us a thing, versus if we asked the IT peeps to do it.

    I'm a sucker for hand lotion and I love feeling my hands soft after spending 8hrs wearing gloves. Have a bottle of lotion close to the sink, and I'm sure more peeps will be thankful :-).

  • JaneB says:

    yes to glass doored cupboards and one phone with a cord which can always be found!

    My lab has several areas, one for 'wet work with chemicals', another for 'messy work', another for microscopy.

    One thing we've found useful is having a dedicated space at the entrance to the wet sections containing a set of protective gear (gloves, disposable apron, goggles etc.) and spill-mopping-up supplies so that in a minor (or major but so far we haven't had any major ones, thank heavens) accident anyone coming from one section into the other to help can quickly and easily grab all the supplies they need to help rather than wasting time.

    Also, think about having somewhere for notices and information, all those bits of paper or communal announcements or shopping lists... some pinboard space and some whiteboard space are really very useful. Having somewhere to put posters, print-outs of cool data, things like that - makes the space look inviting and encourages people to sort of own it, I find - plus it's an instant display for visitors.

  • gerty-z says:

    Don't forget to designate a space for the cultch pile!!

  • Dr Becca says:

    Everyone, thank you SO MUCH for your input, this is amazing. You are amazing. I made all kinds of drawings this weekend of how I want each bench station to look, and it all made me so happy!

    A few notes, in case you're interested:

    1. The desks are in the lab, there's no way around it. But they're all together and everyone gets to sit by a window, which is great.
    2. Cut-outs for knees at the benches were A MUST from the get-go. I can't believe there are labs without them!
    3. I'm getting a separate, window-less room for microscopy, and another for animal behavior.
    4. My office is next door to the lab, and it has a window!
    5. A tool box was part of my startup list. I do have a hint of MacGyver in me, after all!
    6. Sounds like some of y'all are in some sweet-ass labs. A balcony, are you serious?

  • [...] recently Dr. Becca had a post up about suggestions for her own very new brand spanking laboratory. ┬áNow I may be a lowly grad student but in a former life I was a technician who participated in [...]

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