Template:The Laboratories of Our Lives: Labs, Labs Everywhere!/Labs by industry: Part 1

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3. Labs by industry: Part 1

In this and the following three chapters, we take a look at 20 broad industry categories and the laboratories associated with them. For each you'll find a brief description with common services and how the lab type affects the average person. As discussed previously, using our client type + function model we dig into examples found in the private, government, and academic sectors and then outline functions through activities, sciences, test types, equipment, and unique attributes. Finally, we discuss the role of informatics in each industry lab type.


3.1 Agriculture and forestry

Unload wheat by the combine Claas Lexion 584.jpg

Laboratories within the agriculture and forestry industry are focused on analyzing, improving, and ensuring the safety of the various plants, animals, and fungi that are cultivated or bred to sustain and enhance human life. These labs provide a solid foundation for the safety and security of what can at times be a large network of food and plant-based resources, particularly for large countries with temperate climates.[1] They are found in the private, government, and academic sectors and provide many different services, including:

  • analysis and assessment of seeds and soils[2]
  • analysis and assessment of fertilizers and pesticides[2]
  • studies of farm and field systems[2]
  • studies of plant and feedstock nutrition[3]
  • analysis and assessment of plant and tree fibers and chemicals[4]
  • analysis and assessment of fungi and their chemical components[5][6]
  • tracking and analysis of plant and tree diseases[7]
  • tracking and analysis of invasive plants and insects[7]
  • risk assessment of genetically modified organisms (GMO) and microorganisms[8]
  • tracking and analysis of agricultural animal disease[9]

But how do agriculture and forestry laboratories intersect the average person's life on a daily basis?

The most obvious way these labs touch our lives on a daily basis is through the food and beverages we consume. Though we talk about the food and beverage industry and its laboratories separately in this guide, agriculture labs are at the forefront of humanity's push to provide greater, more efficient, healthier, and safer agricultural yields. Agriculture lab personnel work to better feed humans and animals alike, while also considering the environmental impact of research-based advances in fertilizers, pesticides, and GMOs. Without these laboratories in place, we would surely face an even more dire future of struggling to maintain crop yields in a world of increasing population and decreasing natural resources.[10]

These labs also intersect our lives in other ways. For example, studies of fungi have revealed constituents applicable to paper production, soil remediation, and pharmaceutical development.[6] Similarly, monitoring of plant and tree diseases through laboratory work helps us stand prepared to address potential threats to our own agricultural products.[7] In these cases, the work of these labs shows up in many of the products we use and agriculture we consume.

3.1.1 Client types

Private - Agriculture labs in the private sector typically serve as third-party or contract laboratories to other entities conducting agricultural activities while unable or unwilling to invest in their own private laboratory. Aside from analytical services, these labs often include consulting services on plant nutrition, soil sciences, and water management.

Examples include:

Government - Government-run agriculture and forestry laboratories conduct specialized topical research, provide analytical services, and oversee federal, state, and local programs in the industry. From bee research to interstate milk shipping programs and compliance testing, these public or public-private labs may act as major research hubs or checkpoints of regulated testing.

Examples include:

Academic - Agriculture laboratories associated with higher education institutions are often of a hybrid client type and function. The institution's laboratory may be made multi-purpose for research, teaching, and analytical testing purposes. Many higher-education agriculture labs also process samples from external third-party clients, acting in some ways like a private analytical lab would. In some cases, non-profit and private entities partner with higher education (public-private) to provide research and training opportunities beneficial to both the entities and the students. (See for example the Cornell-affiliated non-profit Hudson Valley Research Laboratory.[11])

Examples include:

3.1.2 Functions

What are the most common functions? analytical, QA/QC, research/design, and teaching

What materials, technologies, and/or aspects are being analyzed, researched, and quality controlled? animal tissue, commodities, compost, feed and forage, fertilizers, fruits, fungi, insects, irrigation water, manure, pesticides, plant tissue, seeds, soil

What sciences are being applied in these labs? agroecology, agronomy, agrophysics, animal science, biological engineering, biology, biotechnology, chemistry, environmental science, food science, forestry, microbiology, mycology, nematology, soil science, water management

What are some examples of test types and equipment?

Common test types include:

Absorption, Acute contact, Acute oral, Acute toxicity, Allergy, Antifungal susceptibility, Antimicrobial, Atterberg limits, Bioaccumulation, Biodegradation, Chronic toxicity, Composition, Conductivity, Consolidation, Contamination, Cytology, Density, Developmental and reproductive toxicology, Efficacy, Endocrine disruptor screening program, Environmental fate, Environmental metabolism, Expiration dating, Fluorescence, Formulation, Genotoxicity, GMO detection, Hydraulic conductivity, Identification, Impurity, Labeling, Metallurgical analysis, Minimum bactericidal concentration, Minimum inhibitory concentration, Mobility, Moisture, Mold - fungal - mycotoxin, Mutagenicity, Nutritional, Organic carbon, Oxidation reduction potential, Oxidation stability, Pathogen, Pathogenicity, PDCAAS, Permeability, pH, Phytosanitary, Plant metabolism, Proficiency, Purity, Radioactivity, Radiochemical, Sanitation, Sensory, Shelf life, Soil microflora, Solubility, Specific gravity, Subchronic toxicity, Terrestrial toxicology, Toxicokinetic, Vigor and germination, Water activity, Wildlife toxicology

Industry-related lab equipment may include:

automated weather stations, chromatographs, colorimeters, conductivity analyzers, diffractometer, dry ovens, fat analyzers, incubators, mills, moisture testers, nitrogen/oxygen analyzers, pH meters, porometers, scales, spectrometers

What else, if anything, is unique about the labs in the agriculture industry?

The food and beverage industry is closely linked. For example, the State of Pennsylvania's Department of Agriculture includes a food safety laboratory division.[12] However, for the purposes of this guide, food, beverages, and ingredients are separated out as part of their own industry. Even raw materials that can be consumed alone such as cow milk or apples require some processing and handling (e.g., cleaning and packaging). In other words, the agriculture industry is arguably worried about the research, development, growth, and safety of what goes into what the food and beverage industry provides. Agriculture labs also have obvious tie-ins to environmental laboratories, as agricultural activities impact the environment and vice versa. Ties to veterinary labs may seem evident, and in fact many universities lump veterinary science programs with agriculture programs. However, animal science as a scientific discipline is arguably more closely aligned with agriculture science, as animal science takes a broader approach to the production, care, nutrition, and processing of animal-based food products.[13]

3.1.3 Informatics in the agriculture and forestry industry

Informatics software is being applied in agricultural fields, forests, and laboratories in a variety of ways, including for:

  • continuous soil profile monitoring[14]
  • collecting and analyzing real time kinematic (RTK) elevation and mapping data to improve crop yields[14]
  • tracking animal disease[15]
  • optimization of tree harvest scheduling and crew assignment[16]
  • computation of wildfire risk indices[17]
  • maintaining lab compliance with testing standards from organizations such as the Association of Official Seed Analysts (AOSA)[18]

Researchers of agricultural informatics may publish in journals such as Journal of Agricultural Informatics[19] and present at conferences like the International Conference on Agricultural Informatics.[20] Some universities like The Hebrew University of Jerusalem even offer agricultural informatics programs to students wishing to apply informatics within and outside the agriculture lab.[21]

3.1.4 LIMSwiki resources and further reading

LIMSwiki resources

Further reading


3.2 Automotive, aerospace, and marine

Delphi Automotive (6944417073).jpg

Laboratories in the automotive, aerospace, and maritime travel industry are focused on the design, development, and testing of components, materials, fluids, etc. that make up vehicles that operate on land, on sea, in air, and in outer space. These labs are found in the private, government, and academic sectors and provide many different services, including (but not limited to):

  • analysis and assessment of chemicals and petrochemicals[22]
  • analysis and assessment of materials[23][24]
  • analysis and assessment of safety[23][24]
  • tracking and analysis of structural integrity[25]
  • design and analysis of lighting[26]
  • design and analysis of chassis[27]
  • design and analysis of fuel cells[28]
  • failure analysis[29]

But how do automotive, aerospace, and marine laboratories intersect the average person's life on a daily basis?

While much scientific effort has gone into the development of modern vehicles—a significant portion of it in some sort of laboratory—from the ergonomic shift knob and regenerative braking system to the quantum accelerometer[30] and solid rocket booster, the laboratory testing that goes into designing safer transportation solutions and control systems is the easiest for the layperson to relate to. From Volvo and Nils Bohlin's contribution of the three-point seat belt[31] to the continuing improvement of automotive and pedestrian impact safety standards[32], traditional and non-traditional laboratories alike are responsible for advances in keeping drivers, passengers, and pedestrians safer. Without these laboratories in place—and without the related efforts of pioneering automotive engineers developing and propagating tested standards in the 1910s[33]—the safety of vehicles arguably wouldn't be anything like what it is today. Secondarily, vehicle reliability and longevity would also suffer.

3.2.1 Client types

Private - Private laboratories in this industry are usually either associated directly with a vehicle manufacturer (e.g., Ford Motor Company, Boeing Company, Gulf Craft, and SpaceX) or act as a third-party contract laboratory for manufacturers and designers who are unable or unwilling to invest in their own private laboratory. Aside from analytical services, these labs often include consulting services on design management and analysis as well as team and project management.

Examples include:

Government - Government-run transportation-related laboratories conduct specialized topical research, provide analytical services, and oversee federal, state, and local programs in the industry. From aircraft fatigue research and emissions testing to transportation system modelling, these public or public-private labs may act as major research hubs or checkpoints of regulated testing.

Examples include:

Academic - Automotive, aerospace, and maritime transportation laboratories associated with higher education institutions act as teaching locations for new students, as well as fundamental and applied research locations for more advanced students. That academic research may be funded by industry sources, by a government, or by a non-profit or foundation, and some academic laboratories may act as a public-private entity when a non-profit or private entity partners with the higher education institution.

Examples include:

3.2.2 Functions

What are the most common functions? analytical, QA/QC, and research/design

What materials, technologies, and/or aspects are being analyzed, researched, and quality controlled? braking, combustion, durability, emissions, fluid dynamics, lubricants, materials and components, paints and coatings, power conversion and control, propulsion and power generation, safety, structural mechanics

What sciences are being applied in these labs? biomechanics, chemical, electrical engineering, electronic engineering, environmental, ergonomics, materials science, mathematics, mechanical engineering, physics, safety engineering, software engineering

What are some examples of test types and equipment?

Common test types include:

Accelerated stress testing, Accelerated weathering, Acceleration, Acoustical, Adhesion, Aging, Altitude, Ash, Case depth, Characterization, Chemical and materials compatibility, Cleanliness, Climatics, Combustion, Comparative Tracking Index, Compliance/Conformance, Compression, Conductivity, Contact mechanics, Continuous salt spray, Corrosion, Damage tolerance, Degradation, Design review and evaluation, Dielectric withstand, Dimensional, Discoloration, Dynamics, Efficiency, Electromagnetic compatibility, Electromagnetic interference, Electrostatic discharge, Emissions, Endurance, Environmental stress-cracking resistance, Ergonomics, Etching, Failure, Fatigue, Feasibility, Flammability, Flash point, Fluid dynamics, Friction, Functional testing, Hazard analysis, Heat resistance, Hydraulic, Immersion, Impact, Inclusion, Inflatability, Ingress, Iterative, Lightning, Lubricity, Macroetch, Mass, Mechanical, Mechanical durability, Oxidation reduction potential, Passivation, Performance, Permeability, pH, Photometric, Plating and coating evaluations, Proficiency, Prohesion, Qualification, Quality control, Reliability, Resistance - capacitance - inductance, Safety, Shear, Shock, Stress corrosion cracking, Surface topography, Tensile, Thermal, Torque, Ultraviolet, Usability, Velocity and flow, Vibration, Visibility, Voltage, Weathering

Industry-related lab equipment may include:

battery load tester, carbon sulfur analyzer, circuit tester, calorimeter, compression tester, demonstration and simulation equipment, digital multimeter, gas analyzer, gyroscope, hardness tester, heat treatment furnace, salt spray chamber, temperature and humidity chamber, tension tester, thermal shock chamber

What else, if anything, is unique about the labs in the automotive, aerospace, and maritime travel industry?

A September 2010 Brookings report stated that "innovation activity undertaken in the private sector of the auto industry extends far beyond the automaker itself, as nearly three-fourths of the value of a vehicle is added by companies other than the automaker."[34] Though the report doesn't directly mention who makes up those companies, presumably industry-focused R&D, QA, and compliance testing laboratories make up at least a small portion of them. As for intersections with other industries, the petrochemical, environmental, and energy industries are closely linked, providing insight and advances in combustion, emissions control, and alternative fuel sources to automobile, airplane, boat, and space vehicle designers and manufacturers.

3.2.3 Informatics in the automotive, aerospace, and marine industry

As the automobile is being transformed by technologies, applications and services grounded in advances in everything from sensors to artificial intelligence to big data analysis; the ecosystem is witnessing a steady influx of new players and the continued evolution of the roles played by key stakeholders and the balance of power among them. Of particular interest is the evolving relationship between automakers and software providers. - Mike Woodward, U.K. Automotive Leader, Deloitte[35]

Woodward's statement isn't that unusual in itself; representative of multiple industries have made similar remarks. What is more interesting is his mention of the role software providers specifically are playing in industries like the automotive, aerospace, and marine industry. From data recovery and distribution to data sharing, whether it's in the R&D lab or on the factory floor, informatics software is increasingly playing a role in making safer products, improving operational efficiency, and better targeting sales and marketing. Laboratory information management systems (LIMS) are being tailored to the industry to assist with statistical process control (SPC) and capability studies using data directly from the factory floor.[36] LIMS is also helping in aerospace development, particularly with managing specifications and materials analysis in the lab.[37] And with the greater focus on informatics in the industry, new journals like the International Journal of Aerospace System Science and Engineering[38] are appearing to further informatics applications in automotive, aerospace, and marine labs.

3.2.4 LIMSwiki resources and further reading

LIMSwiki resources

Further reading


3.3 Calibration and standards

Calibrate scale.JPG

Laboratories in the calibration and standards industry are focused on testing the accuracy of measurement devices and reference standards, correcting inaccuracies in measurement devices, and developing and using standards/reference equipment and devices for calibration testing. Broadly speaking, these laboratories will appear as stand-alone, accredited laboratories performing calibrations for customers on request; as in-house calibration laboratories found in production facilities testing their equipment against working standards tested by the third-party accredited lab; or in a university setting, which may or may not offer accredited third-party calibration services.[39] These labs are found in the private, government, and academic sectors and provide many different services, including (but not limited to):

  • calibration of working or reference standards used in other calibration activities[40]
  • calibration of mechanical, electronic, and other instruments and components, in-lab or onsite[39][40]
  • maintenance and repair of instruments
  • documentation of tests for regulatory or audit purposes
  • enact measurement assurance programs[41]

But how do calibration and standards laboratories intersect the average person's life on a daily basis?

Let's turn to an introductory section of Jay L. Bucher's The Quality Calibration Handbook to help visualize an answer to this question[42]:

Without calibration, or by using incorrect calibrations, all of us pay more at the gas station, for food weighed incorrectly at the checkout counter, and for speeding tickets. Incorrect amounts of ingredients in your prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs can cost more, or even cause illness or death. Because of poor or incorrect calibration, killers and rapists are either not convicted or are released on bad evidence. Crime labs cannot identify the remains of victims or wrongly identify victims in the case of mass graves. Airliners fly into mountaintops and off the ends of runways because they don't know their altitude and/or speed. Babies are not correctly weighed at birth. The amount of drugs confiscated in a raid determines whether the offense is a misdemeanor or a felony; which weight is correct? ... Satellites and everything they affect would be a thing of the past, as would be the manufacturing and production of almost everything made in the world today.

3.3.1 Client types

Private - As previously mentioned, private industry labs are largely either in a production facility or act as a third-party contract laboratory for manufacturers who are unable or unwilling to invest in their own private calibration laboratory. Aside from making the calibration (comparison), these labs may also provide maintenance and repair services, as well as compliance documentation.

Examples include:

Government - These government-affiliated labs are often at or near the top of the chain of calibration labs, working with others to link their equipment to national or even international measurement standards. They can be found not only at the federal level but also at the state/territory level and may even exist as a public-private partnership.

Examples include:

Academic - Like agriculture labs, calibration and standards laboratories associated with higher education institutions are often of a hybrid client type and function. They may make their laboratory multi-purpose for research, teaching, and professional calibration services, processing equipment and instruments from external third-party clients, acting in some ways like a private analytical lab would. Some university labs may have strong ties (through contracts or received funding) with commercial and government entities, leveraging university research and knowledge to those external parties to further fund university laboratory teaching efforts.

Examples include:

3.3.2 Functions

What are the most common functions? calibration, QA/QC, research/design, and teaching

What materials, technologies, and/or aspects are being calibrated, researched, and quality controlled? electronics, measurement tools, mechanical devices, and primary standards; chronometric, dimensional, hardness, photometric, sensitivity, thermal, volumetric

What sciences are being applied in these labs? applied statistics, engineering, metrology, physics

What are some examples of test types and equipment?

Common test types include:

Absorption, Acceleration, Acoustical, Compression, Dimensional, Grain and particle size, Humidity, Mass, Optical, Oxidation reduction potential, pH, Photometric, Power quality, Pressure, Proficiency, Reflectance, Resistance - capacitance - inductance, Temperature, Tensile, Torque, Validation, Velocity and flow

Industry-related lab equipment may include:

benchtop precision meters, calibration mass sets, dry block probe calibrators, heated calibration bath, infrared calibrator, milliamp loop calibrator, multifunction calibrator, pressure calibrator, stage micrometer, standard resistors, standard capacitors, standard inductors, surface probe tester, thermocouple calibrator, torque reference transducer

What else, if anything, is unique about the labs in the calibration industry?

Calibration laboratories, whether located in a manufacturing facility or as a stand-alone third-party facility, have special placement and environmental requirements that must be met to ensure optimal operations. This includes maintaining a strict range of relative humidity; maintaining temperature stability and uniformity; and managing air flow, vibration, and dust issues properly.[40] Many calibration labs found in higher education facilities seem to be multipurpose, capable of handling not only teaching and research functions but also able to provide independent calibration services to external customers, public and private. In the U.S. at least, the government is engaged in several public-private ventures involving calibration and standards laboratories.

3.3.3 Informatics in the calibration industry

Like other laboratories, calibration labs are using informatics to improve their operations. Standards such as ISO/IEC 17025 (technical competence and management system requirements) and ANSI/NCSL Z540.3 (metrology and calibration accreditation requirements) are vital to the end user having their equipment calibrated, as they better guarantee calculations of "probability of false acceptance" and issuance of calibration certificates, which today are largely performed via informatics software. Those same systems can keep track of client ID, certificate number, equipment ID, calibration due date, values assessed, and test results for not only the certificate issuance but also further data-driven insights about calibration effectiveness and frequency.[43][44][45]

3.3.4 LIMSwiki resources and further reading

LIMSwiki resources

Further reading


3.4 Chemical

Chemistry lab of HTG.jpg

Broadly speaking, laboratories in the chemical industry are focused on testing the properties and constituents of chemicals, bodily fluids, and other organic/inorganic materials. More narrowly, while such testing may be the sole function of a chemical laboratory (perhaps as a contract laboratory), it may also function as part of a manufacturer's greater research and development effort, a clinical facility's quality control program, a government's public safety program, or an agriculture company's environmental research division. In all these cases the work falls under the general concepts of either pure chemistry (research simply for the sake of knowledge) or applied chemistry (activities towards a short term goal, as part of a company or institution).[46] These labs are found in the private, government, and academic sectors and provide many different services, including (but not limited to):

  • analysis and assessment of what and how much is in a substance[46]
  • analysis and assessment of the physical properties of a substance[46]
  • creation and synthesis of new substances[46]
  • development of chemical models, theories, and test methods[46][47]
  • quality testing and assurance[47]

But how do chemical laboratories intersect the average person's life on a daily basis? To answer this question, it's best to first point out that matter = chemicals. Matter has mass and occupies space, and it is made of chemicals. Or as the The University of Waikato in New Zealand puts it, matter is constructed from atoms, and "if atoms are LEGO blocks, chemicals are the structures you can build with them."[48] Therefore, chemistry is about the study of matter, it's properties, and how it changes by external forces.[49] Laboratories performing chemistry activities are, by extension, pivotal to most every aspect of our life. From pharmaceuticals and paint to food and drinking water, a chemistry lab is behind the scenes of many of the items we use and consume in daily life.

3.4.1 Client types

Private - The chemical labs of private companies can be found in many professional spaces and contexts. They may appear as part of manufacturing, R&D, and contract lab contexts, located within a facility or as a stand-alone facility. Aside from any of the above mentioned activities, a private lab may also provide consulting services.

Examples include:

Government - Government-based chemical labs are often part of a regulatory process or provide research that guides regulation development. They may provide mandated laboratory testing of materials for toxic chemicals or material research studies for the improvement of highway construction materials, for example.

Examples include:

Academic - A majority of chemical labs in the academic environment are traditional, in that they act as both teaching spaces and a place for faculty research.

Examples include:

3.4.2 Functions

What are the most common functions? analytical, QA/QC, research/design, and teaching

What materials, technologies, and/or aspects are being analyzed, researched, and quality controlled? biological materials, ceramics, dyes and pigments, fragrances, glass, inorganics, lubricants, manufactured materials, metals, petrochemicals, polymers, raw chemicals

What sciences are being applied in these labs? analytical chemistry, biochemistry, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, physical chemistry, theoretical chemistry

What are some examples of test types and equipment?

Common test types include:

Absorption, Acid and base number, Acute contact, Acute oral, Acute toxicity, Adhesion, Amino acid analysis, Anion, Antimicrobial, Ash, Biomolecular, Biosafety, Boiling - freezing - melting point, Carcinogenicity, Characterization, Chemical and materials compatibility, Chronic toxicity, Colorimetric, Combustion, Compliance/Conformance, Conductivity, Composition, Congealing point, Contamination, Corrosion, Decomposition, Density, Developmental and reproductive toxicology, Efficacy, Endocrine disruptor screening program, Environmental fate, Environmental metabolism, Flammability, Flash point, Fluid dynamics, Formulation, Geochemistry, Hazard analysis, Impact, Iodine value, Metallurgical analysis, Minimum bactericidal concentration, Minimum inhibitory concentration, Moisture, Neurotoxicity, Oxidation reduction potential, Oxidation stability, pH, Polarimetry, Process safety, Proficiency, Quality control, Sensitization, Shelf life, Solubility, Stability, Subchronic toxicity, Thermal, Toxicokinetic, Vapor pressure, Virucidal efficacy, Viscosity

Industry-related lab equipment may include:

balance, Bunsen burner, burette, colorimeter, centrifuge, chromatographic, crucible, desiccator, dropper, electrophoresis equipment, Erlenmeyer flask, Florence flask, fume hood, funnel, graduated cylinder, hot plate, moisture analyzer, mortar and pestle, multi-well plate, oven, pH meter, pipestem triangle, reagent dispenser, ring stand, rotary evaporator, spectrometer, spectrophotometer, stirring rod, thermometer, vibratory disc mill, viscometer

What else, if anything, is unique about the labs in the chemical industry?

It's important to note that by itself, chemistry as a branch of science—and as a science that deals with the study of matter itself—is a central science, one that bridges multiple other sciences.[50] As such, we see significant crossover into the many of the other industries listed in this guide; clinical chemistry ties to the world of clinical analysis (clinical and veterinarian), medicinal chemistry to the pharmaceutical industry, and chemurgy to the agriculture industry.

3.4.3 Informatics in the chemical industry

The rise in high-throughput screening and combinatorial chemistry, as well as increases in computing power and data storage sizes, have prompted greater interest in the field of chemical informatics (also known as chemoinformatics) in the twenty-first century.[51] In turn, informatics has been applied in numerous ways to improve the lab activities of the chemist, including the:

  • storage, retrieval, and mining of both structured and unstructured information relating to chemical structures, molecular models, and other chemical data[52];
  • visualization of chemical structures two or three dimensions for studying physical interactions, modeling, and docking studies[52];
  • generation and computational screening of virtual libraries of molecules and compounds to explore chemical space and hypothesize novel compounds with desired properties[53][54]; and
  • calculation of quantitative structure-activity relationship and quantitative structure property relationship values, used to predict the activity of compounds from their structures.[51]

3.4.4 LIMSwiki resources and further reading

LIMSwiki resources

Further reading


3.5 Clinical, public and private

Pathology Lab.png

To talk of clinical laboratories (serving the patient) and public health laboratories (serving the population) requires a broad look at those labs that serve in the direct analysis, treatment, and prevention of illness. From large third-party reference laboratories like Quest Diagnostics that handle laboratory analysis of patient samples for doctors to the tiny physician office laboratory (POL) performing CLIA-waived tests, from the local hospital lab to a state's public health laboratory, from the mobile diabetes testing unit to the national disease prevention lab, it's difficult not to bump into a clinical or public health lab of some sort. These labs are found in the private, government, and academic sectors and provide many different services, including (but not limited to):

Clinical

  • diagnostic analysis of patient samples[55]
  • identification of infectious agents[55]
  • assurance of the quality of blood for transfusions[55]
  • analysis, management, and storage of reproductive tissues and fluids[55]
  • provision of basic point-of-care testing[55]
  • screening or testing of employees for drugs of abuse[55]

Public health

  • prevention, control, and surveillance of diseases[56]
  • collection, monitoring, and analysis of laboratory data submitted to national databases[56]
  • analysis and specialized testing of patient samples[56]
  • detection and analysis of toxic contaminants in environmental and food samples[56]
  • development and promotion of laboratory improvement programs as well as state and federal policy[56]

But how do clinical and public health laboratories intersect the average person's life on a daily basis?

As the debate about whether healthcare access should be universal[57] or is a human right[58] wages on, many people still receive medical care but some do not. While it's bad for the "have nots," can you imagine a different world, one where it's not a fight for the have nots but a fight for most everyone to survive? Try, if you will, to imagine a universe where laboratory medicine never existed. Without laboratorians diagnosing and researching, today's healthy population would be significantly smaller. Clinical and public laboratories have brought us advances in antibiotics, which without many more people would die from surgical site infections post-surgery.[59] These laboratories have helped bring medical diagnostics to more people more conveniently and efficiently, and they are at the forefront of most people's health care.[60]

3.5.1 Client types

Private - Private clinical (or sometimes referred to as reference) labs usually appear in either stand-alone facilities that outpatients go to or in a medical facility such as a physicians group, hospital, or some other form of care facility. Occasionally, you may find private clinical labs in manufacturing facilities to handle mandated drug testing or even in a mobile environment.

Examples include:

Government - You'll find public health labs almost exclusively on the government side, managing disease outbreaks, monitoring public health, and acting as a third-party analysis option for clinical labs struggling to identify or characterize a sample.

Examples include:

Academic - The laboratories found in the academic sphere are often multi-purpose, serving as teaching facilities for students while at the same time providing vital in-house testing to the academic facility's affiliated medical center. However, some may be stand-alone teaching labs designed to provide hands-on education in a lab outside a medical facility.

Examples include:

3.5.2 Functions

What are the most common functions? analytical, QA/QC, research/design, and teaching

What materials, technologies, and/or aspects are being analyzed, researched, and quality controlled? biological specimens, cadavers, whole organs

What sciences are being applied in these labs? clinical chemistry, clinical microbiology, cytopathology, epidemiology, genetics, hematology, histopathology, immunohematology, immunology, molecular biology, oncology, parasitology, pathophysiology, reproductive biology, surgical pathology, toxicology, virology

What are some examples of test types and equipment?

Common test types include:

Absorption, Alcohol level, Allergy, Amino acid analysis, Antimicrobial, Antigen, Bioaccumulation, Blood culture, Blood gases, Biocompatibility, Biomolecular, Biophysical profile, Blood typing, Calorimetry, Clinical diagnostic, Chronic toxicity, Colorimetric, Complete blood count, Compliance/Conformance, Composition, Cytopathology, Detection, Dietary exposure, Efficiency, Electrolyte and mineral panel, Electrophoresis, Endurance, Genetic, Genotype, Hematotoxicity, Hematocrit, Hemoglobin, Identification, Immunoassay, Immunofluorescence, Immunohistochemistry, Kidney function, Infectious disease, Lipid profile, Liver function, Medical toxicology, Metabolic, Mold - fungal - mycotoxin, Neurotoxicity, Nutritional, Osmolality, Osmolarity, Pathogen, pH, Proficiency, Radiochemical, Red blood cell count, Refractive index, Sensitization, Solubility, Specific gravity, Sports performance, Stress, Subchronic toxicity, Temperature, Thermal, Thyroid function, Urine culture, Validation, Verification

Industry-related lab equipment may include:

autoclave, balance, biohazard container, biosafety cabinet, centrifuge, chromatographic, clinical chemistry analyzer, colorimeter, desiccator, dissolved oxygen meter, dry bath, fume hood, homogenizer, hotplate, incubator, magnetic stirrer, microcentrifuge tube, microplate reader, microscope, multi-well plate, orbital shaker, PCR machine, personal protective equipment, pH meter, Petri dish, pipettor, powered air purifying respirators, refractometer, spectrophotometer, syringes, test tube and rack, thermometer, urinalysis device, water bath

What else, if anything, is unique about the labs in the clinical and public health industry?

At least in the United States, clinical labs are some of the most prevalent labs in the country; as of June 2022 there was approximately one CLIA-regulated clinical laboratory for every 1,049 people.[61][62] While many of the diagnostic techniques and laboratory instruments specific to clinical diagnostic laboratories can also be found in the clinical research setting, clinical research labs tend to be a somewhat different beast. As such, we cover those labs separately, in the next chapter.

3.5.3 Informatics in the clinical industry

From nursing to clinical care, from dentistry to occupational therapy, health informatics (or clinical informatics) is helping clinicians manage data and knowledge. In turn, clinicians collaborate with other health care and information technology professionals to develop health informatics tools that promote patient care that is safe, efficient, effective, timely, patient-centered, and equitable. Health informaticians use their knowledge of patient care combined with their understanding of informatics concepts, methods, and health informatics tools to[63]:

  • assess the information and knowledge needs of health care professionals and patients;
  • characterize, evaluate, and refine clinical processes;
  • develop, implement, and refine clinical decision support systems; and
  • lead or participate in the procurement, customization, development, implementation, management, evaluation, and continuous improvement of clinical information systems.

Finally, with the unfortunate emergence and lingering of the COVID-19 pandemic, the necessity for quality health informatics solutions inside and outside the laboratory setting has been highlighted further. This importance has become more evident with the need for more timely and accurate public health data, better tracking of COVID patient statuses, and better mining of data in order to better understand the impact of the virus.[64][65][66]

3.5.4 LIMSwiki resources and further reading

LIMSwiki resources - Clinical

LIMSwiki resources - Public health

Further reading


References

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