I got a request from an architect in Florida who is working on an interesting project:

Hi. I am an architect in Miami, Florida and I am doing an experimental project to keep my small, young staff creatively engaged. Most of our work is banal residential but we have aspirations and want to showcase our design skills by inventing experimental projects.

If you had a 10′ x 10′ (10′ high) mobile lab that could be deployed weeks at a time in the Florida Everglades, what equipment would you want/need to be in it? The human comfort elements (toilet, shower, etc.) we will figure out, but the equipment we need help with.

Thanks for your contributions.

Think of it as a camper/office for an entomologist to live in while studying insects in the Florida Everglades. How would you equip it? Help the dude out–Please leave your suggestions in the comments!

Posted by Gwen Pearson

Writer. Nerd. Insect Evangelist. Have you heard the good news? BUGS!


  1. Also, I have no idea where that photo came from–I’ve had it on my hard drive for years–but I Want That Van!!

  2. Years ago, when I still lived in Australia, my then GF and I were out in the bush when we came across a geologist doing some sort of survey. He had a lab on the back of an ex-army 6×6 truck and gave us a guided tour. As he pointed out bits of kit, he said “oh, and that’s the fridge.” My GF asked what he needed it for. He replied, “for the beers, of course!”

    So make sure you ask for a beer fridge. You’ll want a nice, cold one at the end of a day’s work.

  3. Kai ZL Burington February 9, 2011 at 11:27 am

    I’d want some three pronged electrical outlets, and a lab bench and chair. That way I could set up my scope and light, and a laptop. I’d need a place for storage that would be safe in moving (vials, slides, other fragile and glass implements) and a way to bolt down the scope and other equipment in transit. I would also want a large alcohol storage container, and a shelf for reference materials. A sleeping bag, a small stove, and a refrigerator would also be nice.

    Some other ideas: If the van was white, have a bunch of mercury vapor bulbs mounted to the outside. Also, have a “fly roadkill” capture net on the front. The fixed table setup inside could be switched for a storable canopy setup out the back with a folding table and chair. In that case, a single outlet with an extension cord attached to a power strip would suffice, and would allow the interior to be turned into a bed at night.

  4. I think I would want 2-3 small built in cages (detachable to transport) to keep live samples collected, and a dozen shoebox or smaller sized live collection box/cages. Power supply and a sufficienly powerful microscope/scopes (I defer to experts on power of microscope etc). Externally mounted adjustable lights and a retractable white sheet for night collection (the retractable sheet could be like one of those motorhome/RV awning type arrangements. A telescoping pole with a net (vacuum?) for collecting airborn insects above height of vehicle. Something that could hold an extension ladder for collection from trees/tall objects. I’ll defer to the pro’s on additional types of lab equip.

  5. I know very little about laboratories but I do know a bit about trucks. A 10-foot wide vehicle needs a permit to move on a public highway and that would be impractical for a research vehicle; a vehicle that wide would also be very challenging to drive in many of the kinds of places an entomologist would want to go. Maybe they’re thinking of using popouts like some RVs have but those have their own issues, in any case they’ll want to think carefully about the practical issues of getting this vehicle to where it needs to go. All wheel drive and a front winch would be real good ideas.

  6. Space constraints don’t have to be a problem: just have an extendible shelter off the back of the van to serve as a fair-weather work space. Basically a walk-in tent attached to the back of the vehicle.

    Also, for camping inside the thing, you shouldn’t have to chose between fresh air and biting insects!! Adding custom screen/netting that could be placed over some open windows would allow ventilation but keep out the biters.

    Oh, and definitely a sun roof.

  7. You definitely need a large freezer for several reasons- molecular quality samples, pest control of specimens, etc.- the bigger the better. A drum/dispenser for ethanol. Having some way to transport and store some museum drawers would be great. Minimum 3 x 6 workbench area for set up of microscope and/or sorting/pinning station (more space would be better). A sink with faucet. Drying oven/incubator. Storage outside of the main space for wet/muddy collecting gear (nets, wader, boots, etc.)

  8. I love the idea to use the entire van as a black light trap, Kai!

  9. I just came across this blog, so I have to make a obligatory exclamation of appreciation for the quality of this blog before actually commenting anything worth reading. Come to think of it, that should just about do it.

    The biggest question should be “Dude, what type of entomologist are we talking about?” If we are talking about a systematic entomologist, you will need a chemical cabinet, a couple of cabinets for collecting equipment, kill jars, pinning table, stereomicroscope, book shelves for ID keys, a computer program that automatically eliminates contradictory characters, and a padded wall to beat their head against.

    A ecological entomologist will require plenty of preservation liquids, a stereomicroscope, storage space for *ahem* ‘herbal’ remedies and a phone to call a real entomologist.

    A molecular entomologist… well, really, when was the last time one of them was in the field?

    That should pretty much offend everyone I went to grad school with, so I think I will stop there. Seriously, though, we need to know what they are doing in the field.

  10. thanks for the compliments!

    You are absolutely right–which flavor of entomologist is an important question. The type of microscope would vary quite a bit–I mostly use a dissecting scope, but someone working on gnats would need a different setup.

    Actually, your mention of kill jars reminded me there would need to be a ventilation system, so the preservatives didn’t pickle the entomologist.

  11. Of course it will need to have videoconference/wifi set-up to access key resources and consultations in real-time. Also, a digital audio/video recording system to document everything.

  12. Hi, I’m one of the designers that is working on this experimental project. Thank you for all the comments, it has been very helpful for our research. Based on your description, Derek, I think we were thinking more of a Systematic Entomologist.

  13. Holy cows folks, you also need some solar panels to keep your computer powered!

    I like the idea of a “mud room” for all the messy gear. How about one of those retractable clothes lines mounted on the side, too, so the other end could be tethered to a tree or somesuch, for drying clothes, or setting up a windbreak or whatever?

    andrea, who worked where it was ALWAYS windy.

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