The summer is here! The official start of the summer in the UK is a momentous occasion and is triggered on the day that supermarkets move the bottles of Pimms to the shelves at the front of the store. British people then celebrate this by adorning themselves with their traditional red skin colouring.

But with summer comes the kind of heat that would make even Ned Stark suggest that winter might not be on the way for a while. And if there is one place that doesn’t do well in the heat it’s labs. So to help all researchers stuck indoors in a fluorescent lit box here are some ways you can stay cool.

1. Have an outdoor lab

This is by far the easiest for some and the hardest for others. Many scientists don’t actually work in labs, they work in fields, boats, submarines, space stations, zoos, schools, and coffee shops.

If you’re a scientist working in one of these locations you already have either a cooler workplace to start with OR need a set of advice so specific to your work place that I’m not sure I have the time to devote to all the different ways (e.g. zoo staff, have an elephant fan you with its ears, I saw it in a Disney movie so I’m sure that’s a legit thing). So I apologise to those people but sadly these tips are mostly for the poor shmucks stuck indoors.

If you are one of those shmucks then my first bit of advice is find some science to do outdoors. There’s lots of science out there and then you won’t be labeled as a shmucks by some blog article.

2. Frozen bottle of water

Fans are both an obvious and cheap solution to keeping cool in the summer. But the biggest problem with fans is that they simply push warm air in your face which is initially nice but quickly loses it’s novelty value.

An upgrade to this is to make your fan into some impromptu air conditioning by sticking a frozen bottle of water in front of it. As the fan blows air at your face it now passes over the bottle chilling it nicely and leaving you with a nice cool breeze. Isn’t physics great!

The only problem with that can be that you need to plan in advance and have frozen the bottle, but most labs have freezers full of random samples and bottles of stuff that you can replace the bottle with. And weirdly, if you make a version of this using bottles of frozen horse serum no one else is all that bothered about trying to share it with you.


3. Air vents in your lab coat (bonus for rigging them up with fans)

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is a vital part of staying alive and un-burnt, lasered or attacked by bees, in the lab. Sadly however, designers of PPE are annoyingly safety obsessed and never consider the summer wear impact of their items.

Luckily this can be corrected with some very careful alterations. Lab coats in particular can be much more comfortable if you look for ways to summer them up a bit. Now as tempting as it is, rolling up the sleeves (or in one case I saw, removing them all together) is not a good idea. Amazingly your arms are quite important and a very likely part of yourself to get damaged with spills. So removing this layer of protection is not very sensible.

The back is a much safer place to make modifications, because unless you have very prank prone colleagues your back is normally pretty safe and spends most of its time facing away from the nasty science. I’m not endorsing the idea of now making yourself a backless lab coat but cutting two slits in the side on your back really can make all the difference.

4. Disconnect all the computers

The summer is hot because the big yellow ball thing is outside making it hot. But like in a horror movie you might be surprised to hear that some of the heat is coming from inside the house!!… err lab.

There are big sources of heat in labs. The first is people. You kick out approximately 400 BTUs of heat into the surrounding environment. You are kicking out the equivalent heat of a small portable heater just by being you. But as we’ve already covered moving to an outdoor lab in the first tip I think we’ll assume that you being in the lab is an un-changable constant. Which leaves us with the second source of heat, computers.

Science runs on computers. It is really really hard to do most research without at some point having a computer attached to a beige piece of equipment. It’s not impossible, I mean sometimes the equipment is black or grey instead.

But while the computers are often pretty necessary, what isn’t necessary is scientist’s slightly superstitious inability to ever turn them off. Go round the lab and turn off all the computers that are really only on ‘just in case I want to run a quick sample’. If you get resistance along the lines of “but it won’t when we turn it back on” then I would suggest you explain to that researcher that power cuts happen and that they might want to consider maybe fixing that rather than having an always on computer.

Although this advice doesn’t apply if there’s only one computer that has a working internet browser and you use it to read ErrantScience every week. That computer you should leave on and maybe relocate your special fan to in front of it.

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Helen C · 28 June 2018 at 05:32

Perhaps instead of cutting the back off a Lab coat you could wear it back to front – saves time and effort!

Adam Golightly · 23 April 2020 at 00:38

I can see how it could be really useful for a business to make sure that they can run their lab well and make sure that their items are cooler. Getting a refrigerator could be really useful for them. It was interesting to learn about how lab coats can be more comfortable so that they don’t have to be removed in the Summer.

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