Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Labs of the Future or, Chemists are Introverts, darnit!

Lab of the Future, at the Swiss Novartis campus
Via Derek Lowe, I see that Novartis is charging ahead with its architectural attempt to get scientists to interact more (picture above, sans snark). It's an open floor plan design, with lots of windows and open space and the like. I keep expecting Tom Cruise's character from Minority Report to show up.

I'm not one for the Myers-Briggs much, but I do believe in the difference between introverts and extroverts. I think it's common wisdom that most chemists (and, for that matter, most research scientists) fall into the introvert category. Attempting to force people to act otherwise is a minor bit of folly. A great comment about this is from Al at In The Pipeline:
how about you recognise that scientists generally have a personality type that favours a small number of close colleagues/friends, and design an office space and working environment that doesn't broadcast everything we say across the entire planet/unit/company? I mean thats not too hard to understand is it? How about designing offices that foster close collaboration with close colleagues (say unit of 6 persons perhaps). Maybe put the other folks that I have to work with either side of me in offices of 6 persons too. Or maybe down the hall a bit, or even downstairs. That way I am close to those that I need to be close to. You could even put the labs across the corridor.

And quit with the goldfish bowls.
Exactly so.


  1. OMG, it's the Orgazmatron from Woody Allen's film "Sleeper"!

  2. "We want to get rid of functional cells such as
    coffee rooms, writing rooms, lab rooms etc. Our aim is to bring the
    walls down."

    'Lab rooms?' Oh, I like this idea. Hmm, why does my drug candidate NMR look like caffeine?

  3. The way I had introvert/extrovert explained to me was not about how much was said, it was where your energy came from. Extroverts feed off the energy of interacting with other people. Introverts find the interactions draining and just want to find a quite spot to recharge.

    Yes, lab people are mostly introverts, but we still have lively discussions that rival those all those of hot-air filled marketer/sales/managers/...

    In my mind, interactions are what we make them to be. Person 1 and Person 2 in your photo will find each other even if they have to go across campus.

  4. Well, I'm glad you liked my comment. I used to date an architect, and like one of the other commenters to Derek's piece said, they really are just art students that can do a little math. Putting aside all the fancy technology, you really have to stop and wonder if they involved actual bench scientists in the design process at all.

    Looking at that picture brings a lot more thoughts to mind....like that filing cabinet is pretty tiny, where am I going to put the rest of my stuff seeing as I've been given this ridiculously shaped desk? How long will it be before there's a most definitely Non-Six-Sigma pile of papers and NMR spectra leaning against that window? Where will I stick my free Eppendorf/Cell Signaling/Ambit Kinome poster?

    Why are all the desks so far apart? Do Novartis scientists smell bad or something? Do they all hate each other? Or do they just enjoy pumping up the heating bills with all that dead space?

    What a bunch of numpties.

  5. That is one hell of a weird-shaped desk. What does one do at a weird shaped desk like that? All your stuff's gonna fall off.

  6. the long narrow desk is ideal for doing lines of coke (right before stepping into that Orgazmatron)

  7. Awesome milkshake! Sounds almost like pharma in the 90's to me. Could this be the recovery we have all been waiting for?

  8. A202,

    Can't be sure. This is a Swiss lab. I think that might be just normal Swiss behavior.

  9. How the hell are we fat Americans supposed to share those itty-bitty Euro-desks? Look closely at the rendition...pairs of desk-occupants are forced to look at each other at an awkward diagonal! Also, where are the stacks of books supposed to go? I know, I know...e-books and e-journals, clean European lines and Germanic efficiency...ugh! Most alarmingly, the LOTF layout precludes "personalization" of space...perhaps this design is optimized for the anticipated temp/contractor/mercenary future of industrial chemistry research. Think about it, if you're only going to work at a place for a fixed term, why should your employer make your workspace particularly inviting? This is so cold and depressing :(

  10. @Chemjobber and blog denizens: I want to wish y'all "Happy Thanksgiving" in advance! Healthy optimism can help us all cope with the turmoil and uncertainty in the chemistry world. Hopefully we won't end up as faceless automatons in the Orwellian Lab of the Future!

  11. A8:42a: Thanks -- that's very kind of you. Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.

  12. What personalization? Some organizations make desks first come first serve. You may not be in the same desk day to day anyway.

  13. I bet the CEOs at those very same organisations don't have to hot desk with the CFO, CSO do they?

  14. I learned a new word today: numpties. I'm going to use it as much as possible.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20