Monday, 18 February 2013

The lab landscape


We were going to have a visit from group of visiting potential students and their parents at our laboratories last week, as part of their tour of the department on an open day. I got asked to do the spiel for their visit. I was mighty stuck for what to say...I always find laboratories really unprepossessing to look at. Few people were wielding pipettes or peering into sample tubes, and the machines that go ping are often not at that part of their cycles.

I suppose it’s not surprising really that shows like CSI and their ilk jazz labs up with fancy lighting, coloured solutions in bulbous glassware, electronic gizmos and pumping music. The real labs I’ve been in have been a sort of ultra-clean shed-cum-kitchen, shared, cluttered and impersonal. And often with a lot of white noise in the background from various fridges, freezers, air-con units, centrifuges, ovens, fume hoods, etc.  I can’t say I find them very appealing spaces in themselves. The data you can generate in them give them an excitement of their own, but one which is very unlikely to be tangible to a stranger on a single visit.

The students never turned up, which may have had something to do with the snow falling at the time. Or maybe we got our wires crossed about the date. Still, there will be future visits. O readers: what would you like to see when visiting a lab?