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U. of Arkansas using student ID card for lab coat dispensing, return

The University of Arkansas is leveraging its student ID card and an automated dispenser system from Cintas to issue and return student lab coats. The system is being used, in part, to create new lab procedures and practices that ensure a safe and sanitary environment for students, faculty and staff.

According to an official university release, Arkansas recently installed the set of automated lab coat dispensing and return units in its Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences teaching and research labs. The lab coat dispensing system is available to all students and faculty who participate in labs in these buildings.

To use the machines, a student or faculty member swipes their University of Arkansas ID card, and then follows the prompts to select the type of lab coat required for the course they’re enrolled in or teaching. Once a student or faculty member is finished using their lab coat, they again swipe their ID card to initiate the return process and place their lab coat in the return chute. Used lab coats are later picked up, laundered and restocked as part of the Cintas Garment Dispensing Solution.

“They’d get regular white coats for many labs, or a blue fire resistant coat. Then, after completing the process by selecting the appropriate coat size, the machine dispenses it,” says David McNabb, chair of biological sciences at the University of Arkansas. “Think of it like checking out a book from the library.”

The road to installing the machines on campus was a roughly 20-month process slated for a fall 2020 launch, but that was nearly derailed following COVID-19. Despite the lab coat dispensers being in the works well before the pandemic, the system is expected to now be all the more beneficial given the current campus environment.

“This program is part of our effort to increase safety in our labs and ensure the health and wellbeing of our students, faculty and staff during this pandemic and beyond,” says Wesley Stites, U of A’s associate vice chancellor for research and professor of biochemistry.

The lab coat dispensers are intended for undergraduate students enrolled in a biology or chemistry class and researchers in those areas, including faculty, staff, graduate students, and undergraduates. University officials anticipate that the early success of the program will entice other departments on campus to join the program, and for more machines to be installed as needed.

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