Pass the bench test

If you are looking for a self-contained and moveable science bench for your pupils, then look no further. This one has water, gas taps and electrical points. It also has what your own science bench may lack - a built-in computer with a desktop monitor and a data-logger. And the point is that it's entirely free-standing (or rather free-wheeling, because it's on six lockable wheels) with its own power, gas and water supplies.

It was designed by Phil Godding, a science educator director of consultancy Itec Education, for use in developing countries such as Nigeria, where power is often intermittent or non-existent. But it could equally appeal to schools in the UK.

Just under two metres long, the bench is strongly built, able to cope with tropical conditions. The frame is made of steel and the work surface and storage shelves are made of chemically resistant material.

There is space for a butane gas bottle, to be acquired locally. A 40-litre tank and 12-volt pump supply water to a tap and sink. Electricity comes from a pair of 12-volt batteries and the output is controlled by electronics.

On top, along with the small sink, two retort stands, a twin-outlet gas tap, there is a data-logging device, a computer monitor on an easily adjustable arm and a wireless keyboard and a mouse. The PC is housed inside the bench.

The all-important business of keeping the batteries charged is handled by two devices. Most of the input comes from a wind generator - the kind commonly used on boats and to provide power for speed restriction signs on motorways. There is further support from a solar panel. And, of course, any mains power available can help charge the batteries.

Philip Harris, the education equipment supplier, was quick to see the potential of the science bench and has been marketing it across the world.

But that is not the end of the story. Already one UK private school has expressed an interest in it to improve access to science in its junior department. And it is easy to see how any local authority schools with inadequate laboratories, or in temporary buildings, could see the need for it too.

There is also the obvious point that the bench, with its independence from mains services, is a complete environmental science lesson in itself

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