Sunday, June 1, 2008

Increasing Importance of Collaboration in Research Facilities

The need for increased space efficiency, sustainable building requirements, and the war for talent are all combining to drive an increased effort to maximize collaboration in research labs. Those who contribute and fund university and foundation research efforts are picking up on these core issues as they lead the charge to build a new generation of research facilities.

Scientific integrity mandates an honest response to our planet’s environmental issues. Scientists charged with conducting research of all kinds see this as a moral imperative and demand viable and real efforts. As the pool of premier scientific talent in the U.S. continues to shrink, the leverage of star researchers is increasing – and they are using it. They have important economic constituencies and are vocal in their quest to do the right thing – up to and including voting with their feet. You may not lose a senior researcher to more money, but you better believe that the quality of facilities and research support are key boxes on their ballots.

There are a few trends in lab space design that are beginning to emerge as new lab design benchmarks to support increased collaboration.

  • “Dance Floor” labs utilize mobile lab benches and carts that can be moved as needed and when needed without rearranging walls.
  • Overhead Service Carriers support this mobile environment and help increase flexibility, delivering everything from power and telecommunications to gasses.
  • More test equipment is coming to the labs as bench top equipment, not freestanding. And, like the computer rooms that most of us deal with, it is more power hungry than its ancestors. It is also heavier, forcing increased floor loading demands onto most new labs under development.
  • Computing infrastructure needs continue to increase, driven by new modeling and simulation applications. This change is forcing space trade offs between research space and computing spaces, and increasing overall cooling and power requirements at a larger ratio than is being experienced in commercial data centers.
  • Boundaries between offices and labs are disappearing. Labs are now being designed with personal spaces at the periphery of the research space, but without walls. In some cases, researchers literally sit in their “office” with nothing between them and their research. This model brings them closer to their bench work and improves productivity, while decreasing the circulation factor and contributing to space efficiency gains.
  • Even though more expensive, glass is becoming the wall material of choice. This change supports two key demands of today’s researchers - increasing visibility and therefore collaboration, and improving the research environment by bringing the outside in.

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