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The Laboratory World Is Flat

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Distance, Remote, and Virtual Experiments

Tagged Division

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1444.1 - 12.1444.5



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Paper Authors

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Jim Henry University of Tennessee-Chattanooga

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Richard Zollars Washington State University

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Charles Knight University of Tennessee-Chattanooga

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

The Laboratory World is Flat Abstract

Labs operated at a distance via the Web allow for “multiple forms of collaboration—the sharing of knowledge and work—in real time, without regard to distance….” (Friedman, The World is Flat). This paper looks at Friedman’s 10 “flatteners” and how they are or are not directly applicable to laboratories in engineering education.

This paper describes specific examples of collaboration of students and faculty over time and space that have occurred in the past 13 years in the use of remotely operated laboratories. The examples include engineering controls laboratory experiments and chemical and mechanical engineering laboratory experiments.

This developing capability enables sharing the use of expensive and/or unique laboratory equipment among multiple universities (e.g., combustion engine operation and performance, including environmental aspects, distillation columns, electric power switch systems). Alternatively, assignments can be made to compare the performance of two similar sets of equipment at different locations (e.g., heat exchangers, pumps, control systems). Students at two universities can collaborate over operation, data collection, data analysis and presentation of results.


Thomas Friedman’s book, The World is Flat, lists 10 phenomena that have contributed to what he calls the flattening of the world. He calls these “flatteners.” This paper is an adaptation of the ideas in Friedman’s book as they apply to laboratories for engineering education. A “flattened” world is one in which customers and merchants in Chattanooga, Chicago or Chile all have equal access to information and transactions. A “flattened” laboratory world is one in which students and faculty in Chattanooga, Chicago or Chile all have equal access to conducting laboratory experiments. Equal access means equal learning opportunities that are typical of quality laboratories throughout the academic world.

This paper looks at the opportunities and the challenges that are presented in the“flattened” laboratory world. The purpose of this paper is not to be an exhaustive review of all aspects of the flattened laboratory world; it is to present some common ideas in a different context to provoke discussion and development to aid engineering laboratory education.

The “Flatteners”

1. Personal computer’s ability to communicate over phone lines. In the period 1969 – 1989, Atari, Commodore and Macintosh users with a modem could connect to the forerunners of AOL and Compuserve1. In 1990, with the introduction of Windows 3.0

Henry, J., & Zollars, R., & Knight, C. (2007, June), The Laboratory World Is Flat Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1968

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