The need for holistic subject matter experts!

The need for holistic subject matter experts!

Chip Albright |

Lately, I've been reflecting on the role of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in the niche field of fume hoods. It's clear that this is a small, specialized group worldwide. This scarcity is partly due to the niche market and partly because few individuals have the opportunity to engage with fume hoods in a comprehensive manner.

To understand this better, let's consider the various factors that impact fume hood performance:
  1. Hood Design: This is where most expertise lies, as manufacturers focus on developing products. However, this is often an isolated activity that doesn't account for other crucial components.
  2. Testing: This group is likely the largest, but their experience is limited to validating performance metrics based on standards without considering broader factors.
  3. Lab Design: Room layout and where hoods are placed impacts performance.
  4. Laboratory Ventilation System Design: The mechanical and control systems, play the most significant role in performance. This area involves multiple specialties, and most experts work in silos.
  5. User Training: The way users set up and operate fume hoods also significantly impacts performance.
When you put all these aspects together, it's evident that achieving a holistic view of fume hood performance is complex. Few people have had the opportunity to master all these areas, leading to a scarcity of true Fume Hood SMEs. However, having a holistic understanding is crucial.

You might wonder why this matters. The answer lies in the development of standards and certifications. Currently, many of these are being developed by individuals who are not true SMEs. Albert Einstein once said, "If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough." Without deep understanding, standards tend to follow the status quo and outdated methodologies. And since most standards are consensus-based performance is reduced to the lowest common denominator.

Take ASHRAE 110, for example. The versions from 1985, 1995, and 2016 show little change, despite significant advancements over those 30-plus years. Without collaboration among many SMEs, innovation stalls, and longstanding mistakes persist. A prime example is the myth that face velocity is a reliable safety metric, despite no direct correlation between face velocity and containment, which is the essence of safety.

It's time to reevaluate our thinking about fume hood performance. I invite you all to reconsider what truly constitutes safe fume hood performance and join in the call for change.