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A laboratory is a facility that provides controlled conditions in which scientific or technological research, experiments, and measurement may be performed.
Labs used for scientific research take many forms because of the differing requirements of specialists in the various fields of science and engineering. A physics lab might contain a particle accelerator or vacuum chamber, while a metallurgy lab could have apparatus for casting or refining metals or for testing their strength. A chemist or biologist might use a wet laboratory, while a psychologist’s lab might be a room with one-way mirrors and hidden cameras in which to observe behavior. In some laboratories, such as those commonly used by computer scientists, computers (sometimes supercomputers) are used for either simulations or the analysis of data collected elsewhere. Scientists in other fields will use still other types of laboratories. Engineers use labs as well to design, build, and test technological devices.
Despite the great differences among laboratories, some features are common. The use of workbenches or countertops at which scientists may choose to either sit or stand is a common way to ensure comfortable working conditions. Cabinets for the storage of laboratory equipment are also found in laboratories. It is traditional for a scientist to record an experiment’s progress in a laboratory notebook, but modern labs almost always contain at least one computer workstation for data collection and analysis.
Scientific laboratories can be found in schools and universities, in industry, in government or military facilities, and even aboard ships and spacecraft. A laboratory might offer work space for just one to more than thirty researchers depending on its size and purpose. Recently, a new type of laboratory called Open Laboratory has emerged. Its format allows the sharing of space, equipment, support staff between different research groups and also fosters information exchange through communications across fields. There is also an open source lab, which is a lab that is made up of open source scientific hardware.