National Science Day: A Blueprint for Academic Laboratories

National Science Day

India observes February 28 as National Science Day. On this very day, in 1928, Sir C.V. Raman, announced his discovery related to “the phenomenon of the scattering of light, as it passes through material molecules”. He was granted a Nobel Prize in the year 1930 for the famed ‘Raman Effect’ which revolutionized Optics.

We celebrate the day by holding science seminars, exhibitions, lectures, science film screenings etc. in our schools, colleges and institutions of research. Eminent scientists, as well as budding scientists, are felicitated on this occasion. In short, we celebrate the “Importance of Science in our lives”

How do the National Science Day and Laboratories Connect?

Laboratories are the spaces where science ‘happens’.

The theme of National Science Day 2022 is ‘Integrated Approach in Science and Technology for a Sustainable Future’. The focus of Science and Technology has shifted towards a sustainable future for our planet. While we strive to reduce carbon emissions and fight pollution, we need newer technologies that are appropriate for our country. We aim at motivating our young minds to take up Science in service of these goals. Laboratories are the workspaces where our budding scientists and researchers will learn and give shape to their innovations.

It is our responsibility to provide young scientists with modern Labs which facilitate unhindered learning and fire their imagination. The next Sir C V Raman would be honing his/her scientific skills in one of these laboratories.
We have already moved towards project-based learning in science. It is about the time when we make the next move towards science learning that leads to innovations. School laboratories in particular now have a dual responsibility. Not only should they facilitate learning but also promote collaborative project-based research at the junior level. Scientific Research must be our strength and we need young scientists to follow this path early on.

A new approach to School Laboratories?

We need to take a new and innovative approach to the way our school labs are designed and built.

Location

While design and safety constraints must be addressed, school laboratories need not be pushed into the farthest corner. They could act as a motivation for young minds, to take up science. The location may be such that when young students pass by, their curiosity gets fired up. Maximum natural light and good ventilation are important while selecting a site.

Inviting

Lab spaces need to look inviting rather than routine. The layouts and décor of yesteryears must pave way for imaginative use of spaces, aesthetics, colours and lighting. The curiosity of young minds must get fired up. There have to be adequate display stations, spaces for demonstrating students’ projects and posters. Young scientists should feel invited and motivated to work in laboratories.

Facilitating

As we move towards more emphasis on practical learning, our lab designers need to look beyond the routine. Labs should have more bespoke design elements. There must be scope for future expansions. School labs may need mobile and flexible furniture systems, to seamlessly integrate theoretical learning with practical work. A different set of students are going to use the same Lab for different learning objectives, another reason to design a flexible Lab.

Modern Science is turning collaborative in a big way. Young scientists would be called upon to develop their skills accordingly. Co-working spaces may be added within the labs. A good design should not create barriers to communication.

The furniture system should address the functional needs of young students. Utilities should be conveniently located. The use of technology could be promoted and enhanced with AV Aids. There have to be equipped spaces for student groups to build their projects- maybe a separate maker’s lab. Workstations for 3D printing are fast becoming a norm rather than an exception. Design must accommodate the interdisciplinarity nature of learning.

Ventilation

The need for good ventilation cannot be overemphasized. In chemistry and biology laboratories use of ducted/ ductless fume hoods, spot extractors must be made. Even in the physics lab, the designer must evaluate the risks and address any issues. A non-smelly and well-ventilated lab is not only desirable but in itself a motivator.

Safe

The highest priority is reserved for safety. We need to follow safety as a culture in school laboratories. Safety in handling material, equipment must be seamlessly integrated with the laboratory design. Accident chances can be reduced to a minimum by good design, however just in case a need arises, safety showers, eye washers must be located within easy reach. A marked emergency exit pathway on the floor is a must. Provision for fire extinguishers, storage spaces of PPEs, students’ personal belongings etc. needs provision in the design.

What about Labs in Universities and Research institutions?

Challenges in designing and building labs for higher education have increased many folds in recent times. Post-Millennials are entering our higher education institutions. The use of technology has increased. The learning and research methodologies have witnessed a sea change. Labs have to keep pace with these changes.

Flexibility

The new generation of scientists would attach importance to flexibility and strive for work-life balance. The same logic extends to Labs. The layouts and furniture systems can be flexible and reconfigurable. Often, a new set of instrumentation; or a need for a change in the process will find its way into the Lab. A researcher may spend a different amount of time at the lab table or the computer. Science has turned interdisciplinary and collaborative. Hence all-around flexibility would be an indispensable attribute.

IOT/ Technology Integration

These changes are already ‘upon’ us. Lab design must integrate needs of IoT, Data, Communication, Remote monitoring, into the furniture system. Ventilation systems such as fume hoods need to stay connected. BMS systems must respond quickly to varying demands. Maintenance of equipment and systems has to be easy with good access and convenience. Spaces for Robotic Stations, Articulated Arms for handling hazmat etc. need provision in design.

Space Design

There is a greater need for open workspaces and break-out areas. A full-scale Lab, a meeting room and a break-out area can all intermesh nicely. Modern Lab Architecture enables the imaginative and efficient design of Lab spaces. Natural light and comfort can integrate with the layout. The Lab need not look routine and can have aesthetic elements. A lot of motivation and maximization of efforts is the reward offered by a good design.

Open ceiling systems with services (utilities) dropping down are helping the labs reduce clutter. New age furniture with sleek ergonomics and mobility is available. So are modern fume hoods and ventilation systems. Mobile systems are available as an option.

Atmosphere Control

Modern engineering controls provide a lot many options when it comes to controlling the atmosphere within a Lab area. Automatic and efficient Ventilation controls are available for the exhaust system. They are matched with LCV fume hoods and Low flow hoods. The comfort air conditioning is integrated with BMS which handles exhaust ventilation too. Gone are the days of foul-smelling labs with poor ventilation.

However, an eye must be kept on the high running costs of the exhaust ventilation system. Engineering system design with advanced instrumentation and controls can help reduce these costs phenomenally.

Lastly, the exhaust coming out of these Labs must be scrubbed clean of pollutants either through conventional Scrubbers or Carbon filters. It is our responsibility towards the community.

Safety

New age Universities and research labs are expected to handle novel (at times hazardous) materials. The experimentation could carry on without supervision for a long time, even overnight. These are newer and independent risks and must be addressed.
The instrumentation and control system must be accessible to the researcher and/or to engineering at all times.

The safety of IT systems and data is absolutely important. Need-based Access Control must be integrated with Lab design. Gas detection alarms, fire alarms, safety showers and eye showers must be routinely audited and certified. The marked way leading to an exit is important in case of emergencies.

All fume hoods and Ventilation equipment need audit and calibration. Correct use of PPEs and their access is important too. Safety audits for the whole facility are very important. Risks like Radiation Hazard, Spill Hazard, Explosion &Fire Hazard etc. need assessment and must be effectively addressed. The Lab must not only be safe but also make its occupants feel safe.

The future is here, are our Labs ready?

This year on the occasion of National Science Day, let’s commit to creating contemporary Labs that keep pace with the ever-evolving demands of Science and Research. Greetings to the academic and research community on the occasion!

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