Scientific Laboratory Equipment

Learning Objective

In this lesson we will learn about the main glassware items and other pieces of equipment used in a school science laboratory.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this lesson you will be able to:

  • Identify common scientific laboratory equipment.

  • Give examples of common uses of different scientific laboratory equipment.

  • Describe how to use scientific laboratory equipment in a safe manner.

 

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Introduction

  • A science laboratory is full of unique pieces of equipment.
    Each piece of equipment has its own specialised purpose and a safe method of operation.
    Becoming familiar with the main items that you will use in science class will greatly help you become a competent scientist.

 
molecular biology science laboratory

A science laboratory contains a variety of specialised equipment.

(Image: Zuzanna K. Filutowska, Wikimedia Commons)

 

Laboratory Glassware

  • Many items within a science laboratory are made of glass.
    This is usually different to standard glass, as it needs to have special qualities.
    For example, laboratory glass needs to be able to store chemicals without reacting with them. It also needs to be able to withstand high temperatures without cracking.
  • Although it’s a bit tougher than regular glass, laboratory glassware is still fragile and needs to be handled with care.
    It will break if dropped or handled roughly.
    It can also be expensive to replace.
  • If you notice a piece of glassware that has a crack in it, inform your teacher immediately.
    This is especially important if the object is going to be heated as it will almost certainly break.
  • In the following sections, we will look at some common pieces of laboratory equipment.
    We will also look at some equipment that is not made of glass.

 
science laboratory glassware

Laboratory glassware uses a special type of glass, but it is still fragile.

(Image: PublicDomainPictures, Pixabay)

 

Beaker

  • A beaker is a stout, cylindrical glass vessel, with a flat bottom and pouring spout.
  • Beakers are used for preparing solutions, collecting and mixing liquids and heating solutions.
  • They usually have measurement lines, but these should only be used for measuring approximate volumes, as they are not as accurate as other types of glassware.
  • Beakers come in a range of sizes, with some being narrower or wider than the standard shape shown below.

 
science laboratory beaker

A beaker

(Image: Lilly_M, Wikimedia Commons)

 

Conical Flask

  • A conical flask (also called an Erlenmeyer flask) is glass vessel with a wide flat bottom that tapers up into a narrow cylindrical neck.
  • Conical flasks are used for collecting and mixing liquids, as they can be swirled without spilling contents.
    They are also used in biology for growing microbial cultures.
  • Like beakers, conical flasks usually have measurement lines that should only be used for measuring approximate volumes.
  • Conical flasks comes in a range of sizes, and can have necks of varying widths.

 
science laboratory conical flask

A conical flask

(Image: Lucasbosch, Wikimedia Commons)

 

Measuring Cylinder

  • A measuring cylinder (also called a graduated cylinder) is a tall, narrow glass vessel with a wider flat-bottom stand.
  • Measuring cylinders have precisely marked measurement lines along their side.
  • They are used for accurately measuring volumes of liquids.
  • Measuring cylinders come in a variety of sizes.

 
science laboratory measuring cylinders

Measuring cylinders

(Image: Praphai Donphaimueang, Wikimedia Commons)

 

Test Tube

  • A test tube is a narrow glass tube with a round bottom and open top.
  • Test tubes are used for holding, mixing or heating small samples of substances (liquid or solid).
    A rubber stopper can be used to seal a test tube when mixing substances.
  • When not being held, test tubes are placed in a test tube rack to prevent them from toppling over or rolling off the lab bench.
    This reduces the risk of breakage and chemical spills.
  • When heating substances in a test tube over a Bunsen burner flame, a test tube holder is used.
    Test tubes can also be placed in racks in a water bath.

 
science laboratory test tubes rack

Test tubes

(Image: Milesl, Pixabay)

 

Glass Funnel

  • A glass funnel is a wide-mouth glass vessel tapering to a narrow drainage column.
  • Glass funnels are used for preventing spillage when pouring liquids from larger containers into smaller, narrow-necked containers.
    They are also used in conjunction with filter paper for filtration of fine solid particles from liquid mixtures.

 
science laboratory glass funnel

A glass funnel

(Image: Aleksander Sobolewski, Wikimedia Commons)

 

Round-Bottom Flask

  • A round-bottom flask is a glass vessel that is completely round, except for a narrow neck.
  • Round-bottom flasks are used for specialised laboratory tasks, such as distillation, where the flask is heated over a Bunsen burner flame.
  • Due to its shape, a round-bottom flask is held in a clamp or attached to another piece equipment when being used.

 
science laboratory round-bottom flask

A round-bottom flask

(mage: Lilly_M, Wikimedia Commons)

 

Glass Rod

  • A glass rod (also called an stirring rod) is thin, solid length of rounded glass.
  • Glass rods are used for stirring chemicals and decanting liquids.

 
science laboratory glass stirring rod

A glass stirring rod

(Image: TarnPraewan, Wikimedia Commons)

 

Watch Glass

  • A watch glass is a round, slightly concave (curved) piece of glass.
  • Watch glasses are used for holding small amounts of solids or liquids, often for weighing them.
    They are also used as a surface for evaporating liquids from solutions and drying solids.
    They can also be used as a temporary cover for beakers containing solutions, to prevent dust or other substances from getting into them.

 
science laboratory watch glass

A watch glass

(Image: Ilja, Wikimedia Commons)

 

Bunsen Burner

  • A Bunsen burner is a portable gas burner.
  • It consists of a narrow vertical metal tube, a flat stand, a gas inlet attached to a rubber hose – which attaches to a gas tap, and an air hole surrounded by an adjustable collar.
  • Bunsen burners are used for heating, burning and sterilising materials in a laboratory.
    They are often used in conjunction with a tripod, for example, when heating liquids in a beaker or solids in a crucible.

 
science laboratory bunsen burner

A Bunsen burner

(Image: Polimerek, Wikimedia Commons)

 

Tripod

  • A tripod is a three-legged metal stand with a flat, triangular or round platform.
  • Tripods are primarily used for holding objects that are being heated by a Bunsen burner.
    They are placed over the Bunsen burner and objects placed on the tripod.
    When heating substances in a beaker, a wire gauze is placed on the tripod and the beaker is placed on the wire gauze.
    When heating substances in a crucible, a pipeclay triangle is placed on the tripod and the crucible is placed inside the pipeclay triangle.
  • Since the top section of a tripod can get very hot during use with a Bunsen burner, the safest way to handle them is by the bottom of the legs, as these don’t get hot.
    Ideally, a tripod should be allowed to cool down before being handled.

 
science laboratory tripod

A tripod”

(Image: NagayaS, Wikimedia Commons)

 

Wire Gauze

  • A wire gauze is a rigid, flat piece of square metal mesh.
  • A wire gauzes is placed on top of a tripod to hold flat-bottomed glassware while heating with a Bunsen burner.
    In addition to supporting objects over a Bunsen burner, the meshed metal structure allows for the heat of the flame to be spread out more evenly.
    The centre section of a wire gauze will often glow red-hot when in use.
  • Since the centre section of a wire gauze gets very hot during use, the safest way to handle them is by the edges, as these should not get hot if the gauze is used correctly.
    Ideally, a wire gauze should be allowed to cool down before being handled.

 
science laboratory wire gauze tripod

A wire gauze set up on a tripod, with a beaker and Bunsen burner.

(Image: NagayaS, Wikimedia Commons)

 

Retort Stand, Bosshead and Clamp

  • Retort stands, bossheads and clamps are separate pieces of equipment, but are usually used together.
    They are used for holding certain pieces of glassware and other scientific equipment during experiments.
  • A retort stand is a large, upright metal rod attached to a large, flat metal base.
  • A bosshead is a device containing two screw clamps, aligned at right angles to each other.
  • A clamp as an adjustable gripping device.
  • When used together, the bosshead attaches the clamp to the retort stand, while the clamp holds the object being used.
    The screw attaching the bosshead to the retort stand can be used for adjusting the vertical position of the object being held.
    The screw attaching the clamp to the bosshead can be used for adjusting the horizontal position of the object being held.
    Only adjust one bosshead screw at a time, and always support the object while making adjustments to the bosshead.

 
retort stand bosshead clamp

A retort stand, bosshead and clamp

(Image: Tsaenmai, Wikimedia Commons)

 

Evaporating Dish

  • An evaporating dish is a porcelain dish with a small pouring spout.
  • Evaporating dishes are used for evaporating liquids, usually water, from mixtures.
    This can be for the purpose of crystallising solids from solutions (by evaporating all of the water) or for making solutions more concentrated (by evaporating some of the water).
  • The evaporation process is usually aided by heating the evaporating dish over a Bunsen burner flame.
  • Evaporating dishes come in a variety of sizes, but are usually fairly small.

 
science laboratory evaporating dishes

Evaporating dishes

(Image: Simon A. Eugster, Wikimedia Commons)

 

Crucible

  • A crucible is a small, cup-shaped porcelain vessel with a lid.
  • Crucibles are used for heating chemical substances (usually solids) to very high temperatures.
  • They are usually heated over a Bunsen burner flame, where they are held inside a pipeclay triangle placed on a tripod.

 
ceramic laboratory crucible

A crucible (lid not shown)

(Image: frog, Adobe Stock)

 

Pipeclay Triangle

  • A pipeclay triangle (also called an clay triangle) is a triangular metal wire frame surrounded by clay or ceramic tubing.
  • Pipeclay triangles are placed on tripods to support crucibles or similar objects while they are heated over a Bunsen burner flame.

 
pipeclay clay triangle

“A pipeclay triangle

(Image: Good Science)

 

Test Tube Holder

  • A test tube holder can take the form of a large wooden peg or special metal tongs with a widened gripping end.
  • Test tube holders are usually used when heating test tubes over a Bunsen burner flame.
    The wooden peg type has a more secure grip, but caution needs to be taken so that it doesn’t catch fire when placed near the Bunsen flame.

 

wooden peg test tube holder        metal tongs test tube holder

Test tube holders

(Images: Nacharee.jung, Wikimedia Commons; Amitchell125, Wikimedia Commons)

 

Metal Tongs

  • Laboratory metal tongs (also called crucible tongs) are scissor-like metal tongs with a flattened gripping surface.
  • They are used for gripping hot objects and for holding solid objects, such as magnesium ribbon, while they are heated over a Bunsen burner flame.
    The rounded mid-sections of the arms are specifically designed for holding crucibles.
  • Metal tongs are not suitable for holding test tubes or other glassware as they do not grip them securely enough.

 
metal crucible tongs

Metal tongs

(Image: Lilly_M, Wikimedia Commons)

 

Transfer Pipette

  • A transfer pipette (also called a plastic pipette) is a disposable plastic device, shaped like a straw, with a sealed round bulb at one end and a narrow opening at the other.
  • Transfer pipettes are used for transferring small amounts of liquid.
    The bulb is first squeezed, then the narrow end of the pipette is placed in the liquid. Then, by releasing the squeeze on the bulb, liquid can be taken up by the pipette. The pipette is then taken out of the liquid and transferred by squeezing the bulb again.
    If used gently, transfer pipettes can dispense liquids one drop at a time.

 
plastic transfer pipettes

Transfer pipettes

(Image: Lilly_M, Wikimedia Commons)

Safety Mat

  • A safety mat (also called a heatproof mat or bench mat) is a hard, heat-proof mat that is placed on a lab bench to protect it from hot objects and chemical spills.
  • A heat mat should always be placed under a Bunsen burner or when putting any hot object on the bench.

 

laboratory heatproof bench safety mat

A well-used safety mat

(Image: Good Science)

 

Summary

  • Common items of glassware you will encounter in a school science laboratory include: beakers, conical flasks, measuring cylinders, test tubes, glass funnels, glass rods and watch glasses.
  • Other pieces of equipment you will use include: Bunsen burners, tripods, wire gauzes, retort stands, bossheads, clamps, evaporating dishes, crucibles, pipeclay triangles, test tube holders, metal tongs, transfer pipettes and heat mats.
  • All of these pieces of laboratory equipment have specific uses and need to be used in the appropriate manner.
    Incorrect handling and usage may result in breakage and personal injury.
    Special care needs to be taken when handling equipment that has been heated by a Bunsen burner.

 
test tube bunsen burner

Don’t ever do this!

(Image: Ranveig, Wikimedia Commons)

 

(Header image: Romolo Tavani, Adobe Stock)

 

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