by Kevin Chronley
Universities across New England are leveraging their legacy in STEM facilities more than ever for educational training and fundamental research to fulfill an emergent need for technical lab space. This shift is powered by relentless innovation and significant opportunities in biopharmaceuticals, healthcare, medical devices, and environmental and life sciences.
The higher education sector plays an invaluable role in addressing the long-recognized top challenge in these technical fields: trained human capital. It is no coincidence that innovative, technology-driven business markets are co-locating and thriving in areas with major academic institutions.
Developing these technical spaces on established and historic campuses comes with inherent challenges, particularly with utility infrastructure, regulatory compliance, and unique user requirements. Delivering on these requirements begins with understanding the research space needs of the end users. Academic labs typically focus on the following specializations:
- Engineering, materials, and physics
- Environmental sciences
- Biology and medical device research
- Clean room
- Vivarium (animal care)
- Biopharmaceutical – life sciences (gene therapy, RNA/DNA, process development)
As designers and builders, we focus on understanding the unique requirements of each of these spaces to ultimately fulfill the science goals. A major part of this involves ensuring that the lab spaces are driven by suitable infrastructure systems:
- Power requirements to support science and safety compliance.
- Mechanical HVAC (separation strategies and air pressurization schemes).
- Building management systems (BMS) for measuring, monitoring, and managing the research space.
- Cleanable, wipeable surfaces (flooring, walls, ceilings, and lighting).
- Wet and dry lab benches.
- Biosafety and chemical hoods (exhaust ventilation and impacts to HVAC).
- Laboratory gases (storage, distribution, and possible monitoring).
- Pure water (storage, distribution, and dispensing).
- Room pressurization (negative for research; positive for clean room).
- Air purity/particulate (regulatory and code compliance).
- Waste (management and collection of solid/liquid or gaseous materials).
While academic labs can vary greatly in research focus, there is commonality in their infrastructure that allows universities and their construction partners to readily adapt them to the needs of each scientist. As an example, A/Z has recently built-out a diverse range of lab spaces for a local Ivy League university that include:
- Specialized Equipment for Engineering and Physics
- Air cannon (materials testing)
- Non-ferrous lab (materials isolation and testing)
- Physics experimentalist lab (equipment testing and development)
- Helium recovery (collection and gathering of waste gases for environmental recovery and reuse)
- Biomolecular Sciences
- Bio-safety level 1 & 2 labs
- Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) imaging
- Redundant and reliable power and HVAC systems
- Animal Care Facilities
- Baby and canine behavioral
- Free-range primate behavioral and testing facilities
- Tissue culture
- Innovative and best in class AAALAC facilities
- Plants and Biology
- CAR – vehicle and materials
New England is globally renown as an educational hub that drives innovation in life sciences, healthcare, material sciences, and beyond. The fuel for this innovative business engine is trained human capital, and the facilities that incubate the innovation are these labs.
Kevin Chronley is vice president of A/Z Corporation.