When you think of laboratory design, you think of scientists of white coats using ultra modern machines at the cutting edge of technology, but the actual smple furniture is also hugely important.
It’s also interesting to think the first laboratories go back hundreds of years, and the fundamentals of a good lab remain the same.
Studies of science go way back, take the microscope for example. Even the Romans were interested in how glass magnified objects. The first compound microscope was invented by Dutch father and son Hans and Zacharias Jansen in the 1590’s, after they experimented with multiple lenses in a tube, however these were made more for curiosity purposes, rather than for the purposes of research and were somewhat blurry.
It was Anton Van Leeuwenhoek (1632 – 1723) who really was the first to discover and use the microscope for proper scientific research. We take for granted from school lessons what we can see beyond the naked eye, yet it must have been extraordinary for Van Leeuwenhoek to have been the first person to observe bacteria in water droplets.
It’s interesting to think about the 1600’s onwards, they were real times of discovery.
Alchemists, medicine, biology, we learnt about the human body, the world around us and became manufacturers, industrial revolutionists, discovered electricity, photography, the combustion engine. Scientists were central to this – you can imagine the range of laboratories required to discover all these things! Things we take for granted now had to be discovered.
Take porcelain for example. The Chinese had discovered this a long time before this, but Europe had a desire to emulate the same product having survived with earthenwares for so long. No one knew how to make porcelain, it had to be discovered.
How did they do this? With alchemists who set about in a race to come up with the recipe for porcelain. Between the mid 1750’s to the late 1700’s early 1800’s entrepreneurs employed alchemists or were themselves alchemists to search for the right combination of raw materials, working out the recipe to make white china good.
Across the country factories set up working out different formulas through trial and error to bring about a product that would survive amazing levels of heat and mass production. You can imagine the laboratories across the country working tirelessly to get this right. Workshops carrying out experiments to strive for something amazing. Yet we take so much of this for granted. Someone discovered it in a laboratory at some point in time.
Of course we are always discovering things, but we achieved amazing things in those early days. Then you might think about what those labs would have looked like.
Laboratory design would have consisted simply of the tools for the job, a bench. It makes you wonder whether they would have thought about ergonomics. Did health and safety consist simply of a healthy respect of the materials and tools they were working with? You would imagine that was the case.
However, as laboratories became more advanced and in many cases busier, in education and large commercial laboratories, simply moving about and performing simple tasks can require a lot of planning and foresight. It’s not simply about the outcome.
Laboratory design companies have to think about not just the layout out, but how they tie up everything from seating to accessing the services, from benches and cupboards, to worktop surfaces and wash points.
What might have started off as a bench, a chair, materials to study and tools has become something that has really expanded. As scientists we’ve always been innovative, but it’s really the 1940’s onwards that laboratories, laboratory furniture and materials have moved on.
The range of materials, benches and work surfaces are made out of now suits all applications.
The layout, the cupboards and the fume cupboards can meet requirements for even the most challenging of laboratory needs.
It’s not just the scientists and researchers who have to solve problems and challenges to push the boundaries of science, the lab designers have to create a space in order for them to do this and that is something in itself, and it covers all kinds of labs, from phlebotomy to pathology labs, industrial and petro-chem labs, as well as other medical, educational and research laboratories too.