Academics

The lab of the future is here

The renovated Morehead Laboratories nurtures collaboration, convergence and teamwork among students.

Students measure the fluorescence spectrum of an organic dye at the instrument table located in the Lab of the Future. (Donn Young/UNC-CH College of Arts & Sciences)
Students measure the fluorescence spectrum of an organic dye at the instrument table located in the Lab of the Future. (Donn Young/UNC-CH College of Arts & Sciences)

The next-generation laboratory made for modern learning and chemistry laboratory training has arrived. The Lab of the Future, namely, sets the pace for the future of undergraduate laboratory spaces in the chemistry department. Thanks to a multiyear renovation project, the space nurtures collaboration, convergence and teamwork among students.

Originally constructed in the 1980s, Morehead Laboratories has housed generations of Carolina undergraduate students from disciplines spanning the University. The lab spaces have seen thousands of students perform their first experiments and inspired the pursuit of careers in chemistry. Modern-day research and learning are defined by convergence, collaboration and teamwork, and that is exactly what the new space has been designed to foster.

“Instead of just working with a single partner or working individually on your lab exercise, there’s a real focus on the reality of what science is today, which is people from different disciplines working together to solve challenges we simply can’t address on our own,” explains Ralph House, associate chair for research.

Students working in the Lab of the Future

Octagonal tables placed in the center of the space encourage students to interact with each other. (Donn Young/UNC-CH College of Arts & Sciences)

There are octagonal tables placed in the center of the space to encourage students to interact with each other; students can simply stop by a table to interact with their peers and swiftly move back to their work location. The increased mobility sparks the collaborative spirit the space seeks to cultivate. The monitors that line the periphery of the lab allow students and instructors to connect their laptops to instantaneously visualize and share data.

“Students and instructors can look at the monitors in the space during discussions. This facilitates discussion between groups at different tables,” says House. “With the collaborative spaces occupying the center of the room, it creates open sight lines so people can see and talk to each other easily.”

The upgraded space is strategically designed to promote teamwork in research. Student fume hoods are where the bulk of experiments are performed and line the perimeter of the room. Spaces are strategically placed between the hoods to enable students, working independently or in groups, to take notes alongside their experiment.

“When students are assigned to work in partners, there will be two people per hood. They then regroup to do their data analysis and data interpretation as a group,” says House. “The hoods are spaced out to allow room for laptops so it’s easy to collect data at each of the hoods.”

To maximize lab space efficiency, a modular bench is located in each lab and can be moved to accommodate a wide range of scientific equipment. The versatility enables instructors to quickly adapt to changes in course needs. The renovation project comes complete with a new HVAC system, new lighting and upgrades to make the space compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Lab of the Future project was overseen by Nita Eskew, director of undergraduate laboratories, and Ralph House, associate chair for research.

Read more stories from the chemistry department.