To set a precedent for other chemistry labs on campus, UNC has constructed the new Lab of the Future, which opened recently in Morehead Laboratories.
The new lab, which was first used during the fall semester, is a space where undergraduate students taking chemistry classes can do coursework and conduct research.
While UNC students have been a part of labs in Morehead Laboratories for many decades, this lab space was designed to promote teamwork in research and emphasize efficiency.
Nita Eskew, director of undergraduate labs, spoke about the importance of building the new lab space. She said that it was crucial for students to be given the opportunity to learn how research is conducted today.
“In modern research, it is all about teamwork and collaboration,” she said. “No one is working in isolation, so providing them with the experience of a modern research lab and fostering teamwork is important for us.”
Planning for the new lab was focused on three main aspects, Ralph House, associate chairperson for research in the department of chemistry, said.
“When I think about chemistry, STEM just in general, and I think about how research happens today, the things that I tend to focus on are collaboration, convergence and communication,” House said. “As we were thinking about this space, we were thinking about these three things.”
Eskew echoed House’s sentiment, and said that building a new space that encouraged working together as a group was of the utmost importance for the Lab of the Future.
“The primary goal was to foster collaboration and teamwork among the students and for them to be able to share data and discuss data,” Eskew said.
The physical layout of the lab was constructed not only to increase productivity, but also to encourage collaboration. There are octagonal tables in the center of the room, and the lab includes monitors to visualize data and space for groups to take notes during research.
“We definitely wanted the tables in the middle of the room to promote that collaboration and also the monitors that are on the walls to allow the TAs to share information with the students,” Eskew said. “Also, after doing their work, they can project the data that is being collected so that students can compare and contrast their data with other teams in the classroom.”
Brock Swartz, a graduate research assistant in the Department of Chemistry, worked as a teaching assistant during the fall 2021 semester in the new lab.
Swartz said that one of the most influential changes to the new lab was the improved layout and it is beneficial to the productivity of both students and professors.
"With the way the new lab is laid out, it is easier to survey the entire room, whereas with the old lab you could only look at one row at a time,” Swartz said.
With the Lab of the Future fully operational, House is excited to see what the future holds in terms of upgrading other labs on campus, as well as the lab’s influence on other labs across the nation.
“When I think about envisioning what we are calling the Lab of the Future, it is really thinking specifically of upgrading the labs at Morehead,” House said. “Now, could this serve as a model for teaching labs outside of UNC? I would say to some extent, yes.”
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