Howard Hughes Medical Institute 2010 Annual Report

Space for Science

At the beginning of their careers, most scientists take over hand-me-down lab spaces. Read More

They don’t have much choice about the arrangement of lab benches or offices where they will spend countless days and many nights. Most scientists take this in stride, preferring to save their energy to find the right tools and people to enable their work.

Still, when asked to describe their ideal lab, HHMI scientists offered reminders that the basic comforts to human psychology aren’t lost on them; their wish lists reflect a desire for convenience, comfort, community, and a little room to breathe. The architecture of science isn’t just a metaphor-a physical space influences the work it houses.

Illustrations by Serge Bloch

Space for Science

← Main Screen Previous Next


David R. Liu, HHMI Investigator, Harvard University

“In my experience, the layout of a laboratory is crucial. While the open lab layout is not without its own drawbacks, overall I believe our open labs foster collaboration and multi-disciplinary brainstorming. There are no walls between benches, desks, or hoods. As a result, organic chemists, biochemists, and cell biologists work side by side, and many of the ideas that shape a given line of research are provided by group members not working on that project.”


Douglas L. Black, HHMI Investigator,
University of California, Los Angeles

“Indoor bike racks and lockers and showers in the basement. This makes it easier for bicycle commuters like myself. Doing science often requires long and irregular work hours. A design should aim to make it easier for this work to be integrated into the rest of one’s life.”


Michel Nussenzweig, HHMI Investigator,
The Rockefeller University

“Big windows with a nice view. When experiments fail, as they often do, it helps.”


Sean Eddy, Group Leader, Janelia Farm Research Campus

“Some go with cube farms, and nobody likes those; it’s not clear they have any advantage other than not costing much. Some go with an open plan (typically involving Nerf guns and fun “team building”), and the problem with that is that nobody can concentrate when they need to. Some go with individual offices, which are great for concentrating but not so good for feeling like you’re part of a team. Two-person offices and semi-open spaces seem to be a good compromise.”


Harald Hess, Group Leader, Janelia Farm Research Campus

“How about a lab that is convenient and as close to the rest of one’s life as possible and shields from all the usual annoyances? Before I came to Janelia, I had a lab in my living room. While Janelia is not quite at that level, I lived on campus for a while. With all the amenities—pub, gym, diner, dry cleaning, etc.— it encourages a monastic science life with minimal intrusions.”


Joanne Chory, HHMI Investigator, The Salk Institute

“A gathering place for all to share both scientific and light-hearted conversation would be great. It’s important that people get to know and trust each other so that they can talk about their latest ideas.”

Space for Science

Space for Science

What does the ideal setting for science look like? HHMI scientists have a few ideas.

Understanding Our Biased Genes

Understanding Our Biased Genes

Catherine Dulac took a big step this year toward understanding the genetic underpinnings of behavior in the brain.

Lasker Award Honors Long Road

Lasker Award Honors Long Road

Decades of deeply collaborative work led to a promising treatment for chronic myeloid leukemia.

Kaufman on the Immense Value of the Tiny Fly

Kaufman on the Worth of the Fly

Bloomington Drosophila Stock Center director Thom Kaufman reflects on his 40-year fascination with fruit flies.

Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Explore the work of HHMI scientists through an interactive feature that highlights some of their notable discoveries in 2010.