Laboratory Infrastructure – Biology vs Chemistry Labs
Infrastructure is a key component of any laboratory, and nothing can refute this. To produce reproducible and reliable results, it would also require other components such as sufficient funds, trained personnel, and quality equipment. But what exactly do we mean when we talk about infrastructure? Is it just limited to the equipment that is used or does it include much more than that?
THE IMPORTANCE OF A STRONG INFRASTRUCTURE
We use laboratories in many fields, and they include both biology-based and chemistry-based laboratories. In today’s date, science has become so advanced that certain tasks that had to be done manually a couple of decades ago can be automated now. This allows the scientist to focus on other things in that time duration and work on more experimental steps at the same time.
Laboratories that can afford to maintain a certain level of sophistication in the type of equipment that they buy will dish out better results, as they have the ideal tools at their fingertips. Even in terms of accreditation and assessment of quality, some of the inspected criteria are:
- How many experiments can be carried out in a day?
- How many personnel can work together at the same time while maintaining the ideal safety measures?
- What is the quality of the instrument/ equipment being used?
- What is the availability of the required test reagents?
- Does the lab have access to good quality water, electricity, and a disposal system?
- What is the time a lab takes to generate results?
None of this is possible if the infrastructure is not strong within the institution’s laboratory. Now that we have discussed why we need to have a strong laboratory infrastructure, let us get into how they differ from one field of science to another.
HOW DOES INFRASTRUCTURE VARY FROM ONE FIELD TO ANOTHER?
There are many fields of science such as biology, chemistry, engineering, physics, and in the industrial domain, we can further divide them into several types based on the function of the lab. In this article, we are going to discuss how a biology laboratory differs from a chemistry laboratory. They both involve wet lab work, so it’s very experiment based. Both domains come under the field of life sciences, but despite that, they do have their differences which can be markedly clear when you enter one!
Chemistry deals with the composition of materials, their properties and understanding how each property can confer a certain functionality to that material. In chemistry experiments, they are more focused on helping them study the properties of organic or inorganic molecules and are designed for analytical. Below we’re listing equipment that is unique to a chemistry laboratory:
- Fume hood: These are local ventilation chambers that are used to prevent the user from inhaling any toxic fumes from chemicals that produce evaporate at room temperature. They look like a biosafety cabinet but serve a different purpose.
- Spectrophotometer: While UV-Vis spectrophotometers are common in biological laboratories as well, but there are types such as FTIR spectrophotometer, NIR spectrophotometer that incite the inherent properties of the molecules being tested to characterize their function.
- Chromatography: Chromatography is a technique that is used to separate the different components of a sample and it helps us understand the composition of that sample. Now, we have instruments such as HPLC, GC-LC, UHPLC that are automated systems that can carry out this process on their own.
- Titrators: We use these for any acid-base reactions in the lab which are mostly used for chemical property analysis and quality control.
- Polarimeter: Polarimetric analysis is usually used to understand the chemical structure of a molecule or compound based on how it can affect polarized light. Eg: Purity analysis.
- Spectrometer: Spectrometers are used to analyze samples over a range of wavelengths to see how the sample interacts with different wavelengths of light. It helps in the characterization process of various samples. Some examples include a mass spectrometer, nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer, etc.
The key difference between these two sciences is that it involves any experiment making use of a biological sample. It can be a cell, tissue or biological molecule but the experiments understand biological function. Below we’re listing equipment that is unique to a biology laboratory:
- Autoclave: These are used to sterilize any sample, media or apparatus that will be needed for any experiment. It ensures that the samples that are being tested are not contaminated and the results are with no fault.
- Incubator: Incubators are mainly used to grow microbial cultures or cells. Depending on the sample that is being cultured, the internal system of the incubator can vary, such as with cell culture incubator and microbial incubators.
- Microscope: No biological laboratory is devoid of a microscope since most of the work is done at the molecular or cellular level. Even in the case of the tissue culture, they have imaged under a microscope to detail the internal structure of the tissue. Some types include bright-field microscope, dark-field microscope, fluorescent microscope, phase contrast microscope, etc. But electron microscopes are used in chemical analysis as well.
- Biosafety cabinets: These are closed and ventilated cabinets that are used to work with samples that may or may not contain pathogenic micro-organisms. It also ensures that any sample that is being tested is free of contamination. It prevents the user from being endangered by a potential infection while working with such samples.
- Thermocyclers: These are essential equipment in any study that deals with biological DNA. This is used for mainly used to amplify DNA but are used to facilitate other temperature-sensitive reactions such as restriction digestion, rapid diagnostics etc.
- Tissue culture hood: These are laboratory hoods that are meant specifically to avoid contamination in samples. They are also known as laminar airflow hoods are serve the basic purpose of protecting the sample rather than the user.
- Dissection specific instrument: These can include any small instrument such as a scalpel, forceps, microtome, probe, etc. which are specifically meant to deal with tissue samples and ensure accurate dissection.
- Ultracold freezers: Every laboratory has a freezer, but in a biological laboratory you would need something that can go much below 0o The most common temperatures are -20o C and -80o C and are used to protect microbial or eukaryotic cell cultures and prevent them from contamination and desiccation.
In terms of the design of the laboratory, they are required to maintain certain standards. For example, any chemical laboratory needs to ensure that they are well-ventilated more so compared to a biological laboratory mainly because of the hazardous chemicals that they deal with. They are required to store the chemicals at a particular temperature and space and while handling these chemicals, necessary precautions and PPE must be worn.
With biological laboratories, the focus is more on ensuring that the samples are well protected and the user is also protected from the samples that they are working with. In India, accreditation for all laboratories is given by the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) but the criteria for assessment differs based on the discipline.
We hope you’ve understood the key components of how a chemistry laboratory differs from a biological one and why the purpose and scope of the experiment and field must be made clear before designing a laboratory.
Kewaunee’s expertise lies in designing and building laboratories suited for specific industries. Having developed specialized laboratories practically across all industry segments, we believe each industry and sector needs a tailored solution, not a template.
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