A modern day laboratory is an indispensable tool for research and development. Without it, advances in every field of scientific study are impossible to achieve.
The equipment that is needed in a research lab varies widely and is mainly dependent upon the type of research that is conducted within it. For example, the equipment used in a laboratory focused on the creation of microchips or other electronics is usually very different from the equipment needed by research labs involved with the study of the human body.
Regardless of the type of research that is being conducted within a lab, the very environment of the lab itself must be strictly controlled. This precaution is necessary to avoid various types of contamination and prevent potential damage to sensitive materials and equipment.
The following is a brief overview of some of the environmental controls and essential tools commonly found in research labs.
Creating a sterile working environment within the lab is vital to preventing damage to sensitive instruments and components as well as to prevent contamination and produce accurate test results. The degree of control that is necessary is dependent upon the type of research that is conducted within the lab.
Biobanking is used by researchers and laboratory technicians in hospitals, clinics, universities and other research institutions to preserve samples of tissues, and fluids such as blood and urine for later testing and analysis. OB/Gyn clinics also utilize biobanks on a smaller scale in order to safely preserve embryos that are used in fertility treatments.
The size of a biobank varies tremendously and can range from a small refrigerator or locker to a warehouse or other large building. Regardless of their size, most biobanks are capable of storing biological materials at cryogenic levels of −150 °C, for extended periods of time. They also feature backup systems to ensure their continued operation in the event of power disruption.
A biorepository is a specialized type of bio-bank where biological materials are collected and stored for future research. Bio-repositories share the samples and specimens that they have collected with others in the scientific research community. These types of facilities are commonly involved in research related to the human genome and genetic research.
Clean room facilities are used in various manufacturing and repair industries, such as electronics, computers, and aerospace, to prevent damage and contamination. Clean rooms also have applications in the field of bio-medicine and the pharmaceutical industry.
Clean rooms have a number of features that work together to reduce the spread of small particle contaminants. In the past, the design and construction of these rooms and clean zones were in accordance with Federal Standard 209, which has been superseded by international clean room protocols in ISO 14644-1.
Clean rooms and zones utilize HEPA filters and other forms of filtration remove up to 97% of particles as small as 0.3 microns in size. Specialized architecture ensures that the turbulence of the air flow is reduced and the whole body of air within the room moves at the same velocity and in the same direction. This is known as laminar air flow and reduces the ability of remaining particles in the space to spread.
Materials and garments that prevent electrostatic discharge are frequently used within clean rooms, and human activity inside of a clean room is tightly controlled. This further reduces the risk of contamination due to the introduction and spread of particles.
Positive and negative air control, temperature control, sanitation processes and monitoring systems are used to maintain the sterile environment and prevent contamination and damage.
Specialized Equipment and Precision Instruments
In addition to tight control of the working environment, most laboratories utilize a broad assortment of equipment with which to store samples, chemicals and other compounds vital to research. For example, laboratories in hospitals, universities and other research facilities must have sterile containers capable of withstanding temperature extremes, such as Wheaton glassware, in which to collect and store materials and conduct chemical assays and sample analysis.
Specialized kits that contain radioisotopes such as technetium-99 are used in labs in the fields of medicine and pharmaceutical research for diagnostic testing. Researchers in the fields of medicine, forensic science and semiconductors use electron microscopes to examine a broad array of materials. These materials vary from tissue samples to physical evidence collected at crime scenes, and can even include the surface of a microchip.
Research conducted within laboratories requires a number of environmental controls and specialized equipment to produce reliable test results and undamaged products. While these protocols and tools can be quite costly, and add to the overall cost of research and development projects, they are absolutely necessary for fields that depend on accuracy and consistency.