School science laboratories should be a long-term investment that positively influences teaching and learning. Alongside providing the design elements for modern learning, a school science lab should adhere to specific guidelines for safe and collaborative learning environments. We explore the guidelines and considerations of school science lab design.
Preparation and Storage
An important factor to consider when planning school science lab designs is preparation and storage. Sufficient and suitable preparation and storage facilities are essential for safety and learning.
Preparation areas will be necessary for preparing any science equipment or chemicals required for a lesson. Such areas will also be required for cleaning or disposing of resources from practical learning exercises.
Suitable storage facilities will also be needed for storing and safe keeping of resources. Typically, storage of such equipment should be away from designated teaching spaces and inside technician rooms.
Suitable storage facilities are required for safely and securely storing chemicals, scientific equipment, radioactive materials, and any other equipment needed for teaching. Easy access should also be considered to distribute materials to and from the classroom safely.
These spaces need to be large enough, with a suitable layout, and properly furnished to help support the work of science technicians. Such facilities also provide the foundation for safe and collaborative school science labs.
Coats and Bags
Sufficient storage should be positioned by the classroom entrance for students to store their bags and coats safely. This is to minimise the risk of falls or injury during practical exercises. It also prevents damage in the event of a spillage.
Placing open-fronted lockers by the classroom door is a recommended storage method for students’ bags and coats. The number of lockers will depend on the class and room size. Coat hooks may also be necessary for safely hanging coats away from practical areas.
Size and layout
Size and layout is another consideration when designing safe and collaborative school science labs. The size of a science lab should align with the number of pupils to be taught.
There are no regulations on the size of science labs for schools. However, the lab size must be large enough for safe practical work. Small class sizes of less than 25 pupils may suffice with a 70m2 space. Classes of 30 or more should seek for 85m2.
The size and shape of a teaching space will influence the layout of the science lab. There should be sufficient spacing between furniture for safe movement during practical exercises.
Each science lab should have adequate spacing between the following:
- Each workbench
- Doorways and workbench seating
- Walls and workbench seating
- Storage and workbench seating
The choice of furniture should also be considered when deciding on the room layout. For example, fitted worktops and freestanding tables may be combined for extra space during practical activities.
Eye wash facilities should also be installed in each science lab if chemicals splash into someone’s eye. Eye wash facilities should be attached to a laboratory tap or surface. Cold water is required for washing chemicals off the skin.
Fume cupboards should be a staple in science labs, particularly where practical chemistry exercises are regularly conducted. They capture and remove any airborne hazardous substances resulting from science experiments.
The recommendation with science labs for K-12 learning is to consider having half of all laboratories fitted with a fume cupboard. Preparation rooms used by technicians will also require a fume cupboard if technicians handle hazardous solutions or gases.
Any fume cupboard installed in a science lab can have a duct or filter. Ducts, or fans, remove hazardous fumes from a science lab and release them outside. Filters remove fumes and recirculate cleaner air throughout the room.
Also, fume cupboards will require the air ducts to rise above the roof level. The airflow from windows and doors should also be considered to avoid a draught. Duct fume cupboards also need to maximise visibility in a classroom. A flexible duct can be used if necessary.
There are several other factors to consider regarding the lab environment when planning a safe and collaborative school science lab.
A school science lab should take appropriate measures to reduce outside noise levels, such as busy roads. An ideal background noise for a science lab is 40db, the same as for other classroom spaces.
Reverberation time should also be considered in a science lab design. A reverberation time of between 0.5s and 0.8s is recommended for school science labs. Any time longer than this will require reducing to ensure teachers and students speak at a suitable volume.
Installing window blinds, acoustic panels, and wooden furniture all help to reduce reverberation time. However, acoustic panels should not be installed on the ceiling as this can restrict a teacher’s voice from reflecting to all students.
Fume cupboards should also operate at 65db or less, at 300m, so that all students can hear teachers while switched on. This prevents teachers from having to turn off the fume cupboard so students can hear, which can cause air quality problems.
It is recommended that all science labs should maintain a temperature of 18 degrees Celsius, at 0.5m above floor level, when the outside temperature is -1 degrees Celsius. Suitable air conditioning and heating should be installed to adhere to the heating requirements.
Lighting is very important in a school science lab, allowing students to see during theoretical and practical exercises. It is recommended that school science labs be illuminated no less than 300 lux.
The glare from windows, whiteboards, and other surfaces should also be considered to prevent vision impairment. Portable lighting may also provide lighting in specific practical exercises, such as microscope work.
The window in a school science lab is a natural source of light and provides a source of light for the environment. The recommendation for school science labs is that no more than 20% of an exterior wall has glazed windows fitted.
Too much window space in a school science lab can lead to excessive temperatures during hot weather. Outside shading or blinds are the most effective methods for preventing hot temperatures.
The regulation for school science labs is that the room should be ventilated to a minimum of 8 litres per second per person to limit carbon dioxide concentration. The average concentration of carbon dioxide should not exceed more than 1500 PPM.
Additionally, the PPM of carbon dioxide should not exceed 5000 at any time during the day. It should also be possible to lower the concentration of carbon dioxide to 1000 PPM. 5 air changes an hour should be considered for the additional carbon dioxide from Bunsen burners.
School science lab design supports and encourages successful teaching and learning. Combining the above design considerations and guidelines can ensure a safe science lab space, supporting teaching and learning success when combined with a modern classroom.