Question: Why do all labs look the same? What are those tables even made of?
Answer: The sweat and tears of undergraduate CHEM 1110 students? Just kidding! This was actually a difficult question to answer, and the answer seems to be that the design works well and there aren’t many options as far as the composition of tables go.
As far as I can tell, there are only two main types of tables — phenolic resin and epoxy resin. Phenolic resin tops are made by taking kraft paper — that heavy brown paper used in shipping — and soaking it in phenolic resin, a petroleum-based chemical. Then the layers are compressed under high heat to make a solid surface, with the benefit of more control over the thickness of the table.
Epoxy resin is also a petroleum-based product, but in this instance the resin is poured into a mold and heated to form one solid piece. Epoxy resin tables tend to be heavier than their phenolic resin counterparts, although both are chemical and stain resistant.
As far as why all labs look the same, with the black countertops and the wood shelving, Letitia Saunders, a lab manager in the biological sciences building, said her theory is it’s because of real wood’s durability in the face of clumsy young scientists.
“Natural wood is stained, so if something spills you don’t have to worry about paint peeling off,” Saunders said.
She also pointed out that plywood and particleboard wouldn’t be able to hold up the heavy countertops and that natural wood wouldn’t pucker when exposed to water.
“We actually had a water leak where the water tore up the drawers, like this part broke down,” she said, tapping the particleboard liner, “but the sides and everything were still good and they were able to just put a new bottom in there.”
Several of the labs in the biological sciences building were renovated over the summer, and the new tables are the same black-top-wood-base as the tables left over from the '60s. Saunders said she thought it might be for the same reason classrooms look the same, no matter the campus.
“Somebody probably thought of the design,” she said, “And was like ‘OK.'
Editor's note: To submit a question to She Blinded Me with Science, send it to The Red & Black's science beat reporter, Jeanette Kazmierczak, @sciencekaz.
Want more She Blinded Me with Science? Try: She Blinded Me with Science: Why does it hurt so much to hit your elbow, but not to pinch its skin?