Laboratory facilities and equipment are essential to the advancement of scientific knowledge. They are also necessary to ensure the safety of laboratory personnel. This is especially true in the face of rapidly advancing regulatory requirements for the handling of radioactive waste. These rules, designed to minimize individual risk, force scientists to increase overhead costs and to use more expensive equipment.
In recent years, the federal government’s support for facilities and equipment has decreased substantially. The decline of federal research programs has been one of the main factors behind this trend. However, there is no clear consensus on what the best mechanism of support for facilities should be. It is therefore important for researchers to evaluate the various options available.
Traditionally, the primary sources of capital for facilities have been foundation grants, state and local government support, and tuition. Other funding options include debt financing, research partnerships, or operating leases. Various studies have been conducted on the condition of academic and research facilities, highlighting both the need for expansion and renovation.
A recent NIH survey of 367 biology and medical science departments found that nearly a third of respondents reported that their facilities were insufficient. Equipment shortages impacted the ability to conduct critical experiments. Moreover, many laboratories are in disrepair.
Another survey published by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 1988 evaluated the status of academic research instruments. In that study, only about 18 percent of academic instruments were rated as state-of-the-art. That means the equipment is either new, or has been upgraded in the last three years.
Currently, about one-quarter of all research instrument systems are outdated or not in good working condition. In addition, about 65 percent of active-use instruments were not deemed to be state-of-the-art. Clearly, this situation is a serious problem for researchers. And it has only been growing worse over the past two decades.
Laboratory facilities and equipment should be inspected on a regular basis to ensure that they are safe, operational, and efficient. Ideally, these inspections should take place monthly. Some institutions may prefer to have their labs inspected weekly or even daily.
The inspection program is especially important in maintaining a positive relationship with facility engineering and maintenance staff. Additionally, an inspection program can help investigators obtain expert advice on the purchase of specialized equipment. An inspection program can also provide the resources needed to maintain a laboratory.
Research facilities and equipment are essential to the training of future scientists. Students need to be exposed to advanced technologies to learn the intricacies of science. Furthermore, a well-equipped lab can improve the quality of student instruction. Likewise, it can also increase the amount of engagement students have in their subjects. Using advanced equipment will also speed up the discovery of research results.
Laboratory workers need to know how to maintain and operate equipment, and to understand the safety aspects of laboratory work. For example, they must understand the importance of ventilation systems and fume hoods. Also, they must be aware of any flammable materials, poisons, and infectious agents that could be present in the lab.