A scientific approach to skills
Thursday, 20 October, 2016

Solihull College works in partnership with local employers including the NHS to link education with workplace training. With bold new plans to train the next generation of life scientists, Andrew Schneider Head of the School for Science, explains how the college went about aligning facilities with aims.

“Where schools set out to inspire learners and Universities aim to provide a solid academic grounding – Solihull College & University Centre trains students for the workplace.

In the science department we enact this vision by working closely with a network of local organisations including Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP, Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust and the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust.

This gives us live, on the ground insight into the needs of workplaces as well as industry guidance on best delivery making what we offer genuinely revolutionary.

With such a bold aim comes the need for very unique and specific lab facilities – unfortunately however we were left with a large, open-plan science lab that was installed 20 years ago and designed entirely around the A-level curriculum of the day.

Present aims required high-tech learning spaces that blur the lines between education and industry – and following a six week installation over the summer term, two brand new labs that work for all science disciplines have been created and are now in use.”

Throughout the supplier selection process several factors were a priority. The College needed to appoint a firm with a track record of installing science labs that push the boundaries. Solihull College & University Centre’s chosen partner should be able to both follow their brief and help to tweak it. The College needed to work with a company that could manage everything from rip-out to the installation of flooring, lighting, electrics, gas and plumbing.

In a job spanning six weeks over the summer, two labs, a store room and a prep room were created from the existing space by Innova Design Solutions who were selected following a competitive tender.

The resulting two labs feature a configuration that enables students to conduct practical experiments in pairs. Work stations span out from benching that runs around the perimeter of the room, with sinks seamlessly incorporated alongside gas taps per unit. Electric outlets are located on the front face of each bench, away from the work surface, whilst still easily accessible.  Ample storage around the room ensures equipment is on hand and minimises clutter.

As a pioneering new facility, another objective was to make the facilities look and feel cutting edge. Technology was critical and it has been incorporated in the form of credit card-sized computers that plug in via USB.

The Raspberry Pi model the College opted for can be used for many of the things that desktop PCs do including word processing, spreadsheets and browsing the internet.

The real benefit for science students is that they are able to play touch screen videos demonstrating technique or find answers to problems they are encountering themselves which helps with learning.

Opting for the very latest technology has also improved health and safety. With Wi-Fi enabled devices – cables no longer represent a hazard.

To align the facilities at Solihull College & University Centre with workplace needs, balance tables were an essential specification. A complex piece of apparatus that is vital for accuracy – balance tables are often used during experiments to make extremely accurate weight measurements.

Rather than being attached to a suspended floor which is highly susceptible to vibration – balance tables are attached to the structure of the building to mitigate factors such as small vibrations that effect readings.

Manufactured and installed with precision, the balance tables were constructed from a 50mm square section frame filled with sand, cut through the subfloor and bolted to the concrete floor, on anti-vibration mounts.

Thanks to the two new labs, the science facilities at Solihull College & University Centre are unlike any you would find at a school or another college.

Not only are they clean uncluttered and built around the College’s needs, they push the boundaries of college science teaching and workplace training.

BTEC Extended Diploma in Applied Science student, Joe Burchell commented “Where the old lab was open plan, noisy and not quite geared for practicals, the new labs are built around our needs. Every potential problem from storage to technology and safety has been mitigated through design while practicals are now more engaging and rewarding. Add to this the feel good factor of learning in a brand new space and they tick every box.”

Andrew Schneider added “We are thrilled with the results and look forward to training the next generation of scientists in these brilliant new labs.”

For more information on the courses available at Solihull College & University Centre visit the courses page, call 0121 678 7000 or visit the open day on Saturday 26th November.

Students in Life Science Labs