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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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March 17, 2010

Science Buildings: Good, Bad, and Weird

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Posted by Derek

The entries I've done on the "open-plan" Biochemistry building at Oxford (see also Jim Hu) generated a lot of comments from people who've worked in poorly designed science facilities. I've heard from Linda Wang, a reporter at C&E News, who's writing article on this very subject. She's looking for chemists who are willing to talk about both good and bad experiences working in various building designs, so if you fit that description, feel free to email her at (email address de-spammified, just substitute the usual symbol) or give her a call at 202-872-4579.

Comments (8) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Life in the Drug Labs


1. Pformer Pfizerite on March 17, 2010 7:40 AM writes...

I worked at Pfizer in the research building built ca year 2000. Best designed research building I've ever worked in. Placed different functions that compose a team proximal to each other on the same floor, has alleys for lab techs to work in, a view to the lab from the lab head's offices, open floor plan that promoted discourse b/w the functions, centralized locations of common spectroscopic tools (NMR, walkup LCMSs, etc).

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2. Dire Straits on March 17, 2010 12:45 PM writes...

"I've heard from Linda Wang, a reporter at C&E News"

Hey, you should tell her the pharma industry is in meltdown.
I suppose ACS central is the primary target for all those happy pills that were stolen.

It shows you: Never get high on your own supply.

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3. Virgil on March 17, 2010 1:00 PM writes...

All across academia, the new trend (well, not new but last decade) is long open-plan labs with bays, each with a sink at the end, and desks at the other end by the window. This layout is preferred by the "powers that be" for many reasons, primarily cost savings... number of investigators/grants per sq. ft. is greater when common resources are shared. It is also easier to "move people around" when funding changes... hey you don't have a grant, give up this bay to someone who does!

The major downside though, is common theft of basic things like glassware. Why buy and clean your own beakers when you can just walk down 2 bays and steal one from another lab. There's no security, especially if the lab-next-door keeps different hours. In 2 years in such a lab, I went through 20+ pairs of glass gel plates. Now in 7 years in a closed-off private lab, we're still on our original set of 5 pairs.

There's also the noise issue - which these days seems to be solved by everyone walking around with their iPods plugged in. Great for interactivity!

Oh, and doing experiments in the dark is impossible, when one switch controls the lighting for 6 bays. Also there's never enough fume hood space, the freezers are packed, and there is always mysterious unwashed glassware in the sink.

Gimme a good old fashioned sealed off private lab any day of the week!

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4. milkshake on March 17, 2010 1:14 PM writes...

Yet another problem with loong horse stable-like labs is that it takes only one nimrod who splashes himself with a smelly stuff on the bench or or vents the rotovap pump exhaust into lab or insists on playing crappy music full blast, to make everyone else miserable. Also, the air handlers and air temperature controllers are hard to balance in a larger lab - which then produces frigid gusts in one corner of lab while two rows farther people get hot air blowing onto their heads

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5. Hap on March 17, 2010 1:17 PM writes...

I know this is obvious and cynical, but I assume that the comfort or effectiveness of the employees/students is not a consideration here. If people cost so much that you're outsourcing as fast as you can, you'd figure that you might want to optimize the productivity of the ones you do have. Silly me.

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6. anon on March 18, 2010 8:46 AM writes...

Hey, I don't care what the buildings like, I'll work in a tent if that's where the jobs are!!

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7. Mutatis Mutandis on March 19, 2010 7:04 AM writes...

IT people reckon that the working environment, mostly whether it is quiet enough to allow people to concentrate on the task at hand, makes about a factor two difference in the productivity of most employees, and in many cases a lot more than that. I guess it would be about the same for scientists.

My experience is that managers who crowd people together in shared or open-plan offices for the (official) purpose of building team spirit, usually achieve exactly the opposite: To get any work done in such a place, you have to focus on locking others out mentally. L'enfer c'est l'autres.

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8. Anonymous on March 19, 2010 2:27 PM writes...

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