Pimp My Lab

Mar 27 2011 Published by under Lab

So recently Dr. Becca had a post up about suggestions for her own very new brand spanking laboratory.  Now I may be a lowly grad student but in a former life I was a technician who participated in the design phase of a new lab building, it was a process that took almost two years (just for design) and I left before they ever broke ground.  However touring the site years later I see the ramifications of our input.  Sometimes you have to know when to tell the consultants to fuck off when they say well so and so designed this feature.  That's great but the shit doesn't work for us here.  But you also have to know to listen to them to pick up new features you hadn't thought of and prevent potential missteps.  So like Xzibit from MTV's Pimp My Ride, GR is going to pimp your lab.  Here are some tips:

-Power: Baby its all about the electrons, they got em, you need em.  And like Coldstone Creamery its not a like it or love it situation, you gotta have it.  You want as much power routed to your lab as possible.  How many times did we want to get new fancy swinging dick equipment that couldn't at this particular spot in the lab because of power issues.  Think lab placement, don't put all your heat blocks, table top centrifuges, and thermocyclers in one area or you will have breakers popping like a motherfucker.  Spread that shit out son.  Also check every plug to make sure if its active.  If its not, ride physical plant's ass like Zorro till you get what you want.

-Internetz: You gotta power the Google Machine to do your PubMed searching.  I don't give two shits what anyone claims, university wireless internet is like cheap hotel wireless internet, 60% of what it should be.  Plus some of the nodes die and university tech can be slow as shit to replace them.  Make them run ethernet cable.  Everywhere.  Hard connections are where its at.  And they may balk at this but push your point.  And it really is expensive.  Numerous universities hire outside tech companies to run CAT5 cable (demand CAT6 by the way) and charge a shitload to do it.  I know, I used to do it to pay tuition.  Its not that hard and they can drop it in from the ceiling anywhere in the lab you demand.  Also make them activate every single port you have, its much harder after the fact to get a port activated because someone has the wrong number or it got plugged into the wrong jack in the closet.  Make sure they have the appropriate outlets for freezers and centrifuges so you can place them where you want.  If they don't, demand it.  You have to live in this space for a long damn time, why not make it comfortable and convenient?

-Water: Some of your experiments may be sensitive to water quality.  House dH2O are notoriously shitty if they supply a large building and I wouldn't even wash my balls with the shit.  Get a resistance meter and check it out.  18 microOhm, now we're talking.

-Cabinets: If you don't need the doors on them, rip them off!  They only get in the way.  If you do need the doors, get glass fronts so you can see what lurks behind the doors.

-Labels: Label the shit out of everything so that your noob grad student doesn't have to bother you to find the damn lab tape.

-Data: You better have something to back up your data to.  I suggest purchasing a desktop to run as a backup server or use university server storage if available.  I still suggest doing individual backups using Time Machine if you have a Mac and keeping offsite for important data.

-Hoods: Check the airflow regularly, especially if you are working with hazardous chemicals.  You'd be surprise how often they do maintenance on the hood motors and accidentally throw them in reverse or just run them at half speed.  If you don't have any apparatus to test the laminar flow, ask a smoker to hop in there and light up.  Hell a guy I worked with used to take smoke breaks in an unused hood when he couldn't break away from his chromatography columns.

-Space for animal work: Most IACUC's require a dedicated space in your lab for animal work if you are doing it.  Bear that in mind when laying out your little science factory workspace.

-Chairs: We like comfy chairs too, especially when we are hunched over the bench doing tedious work.

-Balances: If you are using an analytical balance, you need a sturdy surface that isn't going to screw with your readings.  Put a balance down and lean on the counter and see if the reading changes, if it does, move it ASAP.

-Food in the lab: WTF is this, we don't eat in the lab, you do fucking science in the lab.  You want to go eat in the lab go work in the fucken Chiken McNuggetz factory.  Go eat in the break room or set a small table outside the lab so people can leave their water or coffee.

-Temperature: Is it so hot in the lab that your agar plates are melting or so cold in cell culture that you have space heaters going?  Sadly temperature is the hardest fix of all because the HVAC systems are usually maintained by outside companies like Johnson Controls, etc.  If its too cold, you can tape up some cardboard to block the vent.  Just don't let EHS catch you doing it.

-Music: A centrally placed radio or iPod dock would be quite nice for your minions.  You can let the inmates determine what music is playing in the asylum or set up a rotation.  Music soothes the soul and the disgruntled trainee.

-Freezers: Try to place these in convenient areas.  Having worked next to a -20°C for a year the white noise created by the damn thing almost drove me insane.  Try to keep mechanical noise at a minimum in the lab if you can.  Its hard to hear yourself think when its loud as fuck in the lab.

6 responses so far

  • Dr Becca says:

    Thanks, GR! This is super helpful. I especially want my trainees to have sweet-ass internet connections so they can find me papers to read, so now I can toss out CAT6 and intimidate the planners. You rock!

  • odyssey says:

    Also make them activate every single port you have, its much harder after the fact to get a port activated because someone has the wrong number or it got plugged into the wrong jack in the closet.

    Before doing this, check they aren't going to charge an ongoing fee for each activated port. That adds up real quick.

  • Re. HVAC - make sure you know which rooms are going to be next to each other, and what will be going on with them. We had a problem recently because the people below the genomics lab were incubating something that needed to be at 80F... That shit will screw with sequencing. Although big temperature changes are worse, I've lost the ends of size standards because the room got colder during the run.

  • -Data: You better have something to back up your data to.

    Just be careful that you don't violate any IRB or HIPAA regulations (some data might have to be backed up on your institution's server.

    Also, I don't know how your building is designed, but if you can swing it, you want H2O, gas, air, etc. mounted on the ceiling. We have this and it allows you to reconfigure the lab really easily.

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