Asee peer logo

Under the Hood of a Bio-makerspace: Automating Lab Operations

Download Paper |


2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Experimentation and Laboratory-oriented Studies Division Technical Session 2

Tagged Division

Experimentation and Laboratory-Oriented Studies

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Michael G. Patterson University of Pennsylvania

visit author page

Michael G Patterson is the Lab Engineer for the George H. Stephenson Foundation Educational Laboratory and Bio-MakerSpace ( in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn).

visit author page

author page

Carolyne H. Godon University of Pennsylvania

author page

LeAnn Dourte Segan University of Pennsylvania


Sevile Mannickarottu University of Pennsylvania

visit author page

Sevile Mannickarottu is the Director of the George H. Stephenson Foundation Educational Laboratory and Bio-MakerSpace ( in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Can academic MakerSpaces and open educational laboratories, serving both structured classes as well as general project work, be efficiently staffed, managed, and operated? Our laboratory, or Bio-MakerSpace (also known as "BioMakerSpace"), houses over 50 unique pieces of equipment (eg. Instron test system, PCR device, laser cutter, cell culture hood), including over 20 of several devices which are maintained at each workstation (eg. Data acquisition devices, spectrophotometers). In addition, the lab has almost 500 different items which need to be inventoried and stocked regularly (eg. Electronic components, disposable test tubes, screws, acrylic and MDF sheets). The lab space hosts over a dozen different classes, and is open for free lab use, both during regular business hours as well as extended hours. In many cases, classes need special setups or unique supplies which are not normally available. Some equipment, such as the laser cutter and 3D printers, as well as some expensive supplies such as Arduino Unos, need special access permissions. Moreover, for classes where students have budgets, usually for end of the year projects or for the senior capstone projects, the laboratory and staff must manage orders and distribution. Finally, the laboratory needs to always be maintained and kept clean and organized so all users can comfortably access the space. Customer service and end user (instructors and students) satisfaction is necessary. The difficulty is that while there are two full time staff, several part-time student employees must be hired. Turnover is high for the student employees (1-1.5 years) and has traditionally been high for the one staff member (2-3 years). This makes training and knowledge retention difficult. While supply chain and task management software is available for corporations, these options are extremely expensive for very small lab settings. In this paper, we will present an efficient and incredibly low-cost model for educational laboratory management.

Our solution makes use of generally available software packages which are either free or normally already purchased at the university level. In addition, a management system is put in place to help guarantee proper laboratory operation as well as quickly orient new staff. In order to measure usability and user experiences, a survey will be administered to student laboratory employees and student end users. Open survey questions will also be included and analyzed for common themes to identify future improvements to the system. Student end users who also utilize lab resources in other areas of the School will compare and contrast their experiences between systems in terms of usability. Lab staff and instructor perspectives will be discussed.

Patterson, M. G., & Godon, C. H., & Dourte Segan, L., & Mannickarottu, S. (2020, June), Under the Hood of a Bio-makerspace: Automating Lab Operations Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35408

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2020 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015