Designing Safe Laboratories and Research Facilities

Engineers working on laboratory and research projects are tasked with balancing state-of-the-art systems, budgetary concerns, occupant safety, sustainable performance, and other factors. Rick Hombsch shares insight on engineering solutions in this national MEP Roundtable in Consulting-Specifying Engineer.

What’s the biggest trend you see today in laboratory and research facility projects?

We’re noticing three things:

  • Academic research labs, which feature interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary research mixing many kinds of research activity within a single building, floor, or individual laboratory.
  • Corporate research and development biopharma, where we’re seeing integration of automation/robotics into the laboratory workflow, and big data and computational science into the overall research effort.
  • Teaching labs, which are maker spaces where students can learn hands-on, sometimes with only minimal guidance from instructors.
What trends are on the horizon for such projects?

Automation and computational processes are shrinking the “wet lab” area. Computational research demands much larger and more integrat-ed office, collaboration, and social spaces.

When a lab or research building is associated with a college/university, are there unusual engineering challenges?

Yes, a particular challenge in academic lab settings is that many of the lab users are graduates and sometimes undergraduate students. This creates a variety of problems: varying skill levels, challenges with safety awareness, irregular work hours, lack of “ownership” over space, high user turnover, etc. In response, many colleges and universities are very risk-averse and favor solutions with proven track records.

Read the complete MEP Roundtable in Consulting-Specifying Engineer.