Lab Materials 101: Essential Guide for Beginners

Lab Materials 101: Essential Guide for Beginners

Knowing your way around the lab can be daunting with the chance of some labware to break if handled incorrectly. But it doesn’t have to be that way. What’s important is taking that first step forward to becoming a better lab personnel. 


The key to being an effective scientist is mastering the fundamental lab materials and working your way up. In this article, let’s go over the key equipment needed for lab beginners. 

Thermometers

In measuring temperature, thermometers are an essential lab material for that. They come in various types, including digital, infrared, and mercury thermometers. Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages. 


For example, digital thermometers provide quick and accurate readings, while infrared thermometers allow for non-contact temperature measurement. Mercury thermometers (although less commonly used today due to safety concerns) can measure a wide range of temperatures. Understanding the temperature requirements of your experiment is crucial in selecting the right type of thermometer.

Balances

To measure the mass of an object, balances are your go-to. They are critical in many laboratory procedures, such as when precise measurements of chemicals are required. 

Balances are the go-to equipment for measuring the mass of an object. They play a critical role in many laboratory procedures that require precise measurements of chemicals.

Fun fact: Several typical balances found in laboratories today include precision balances, compact balances, and analytical balances, offering readabilities of 0.001 g, 0.01 g, and 0.0001 g, respectively.

There are different types of balances, including analytical balances, which are used for very precise measurements, and top-loading balances, which are used for less precise measurements. 

Graduated Cylinders

To measure liquid volume, use graduated cylinders. Graduated cylinders are containers typically made from borosilicate glass or plastic, which have markings along the side indicating volume.They come in various sizes, and the choice of size depends on the volume of liquid that needs to be measured. It’s important to read the volume at the bottom of the meniscus (the curve formed by the liquid in the cylinder) and at eye level to get an accurate measurement. 

Bunsen Burners

In laboratories, scientists commonly use Bunsen burners to produce an open, hot flame for purposes such as heating, sterilization, and combustion. You can adjust the flame’s temperature by controlling the gas and air supply. Safety is paramount when using a Bunsen burner. Always light it with the air hole closed, and never leave a lit Bunsen burner unattended. If you’d like a deep dive into using a Bunsen burner and the different types, check out our guide here.

Flasks

You should use flasks are used for mixing and heating chemicals. The most common types being Erlenmeyer flasks and Florence flasks. Erlenmeyer flasks are conical with a flat bottom, making them stable and easy to swirl mixtures. While Florence flasks, also known as boiling flasks, feature a round bottom and a long neck. 


Its unique bottom shape allows for uniform heating and boiling of liquids. Always support the flask with a clamp when heating it to avoid burns.

Pipettes

Scientists and lab technicians use pipettes to transport a measured volume of liquid. Pipettes come in several designs for various levels of precision, including volumetric pipettes which offer high precision for scientific experiments, and serological pipettes which are often used in biology or medical labs. Pipettes are usually made of glass or plastic, and many are designed to be used with a pump for ease of control.

Petri Dishes

Microbiology labs use petri dishes as a staple. These dishes are shallow cylindrical glass or plastic lids used to culture cells, such as bacteria or small mosses. The lid keeps the culture sterile and prevents airborne particles from contaminating it.


Agar, a gel-like substance derived from seaweed, is often used with petri dishes to provide a nutrient source for the growing organisms. Although they are usually disposable, you can sterilize and reuse glass Petri dishes.

Microscopes

To see objects too small for the naked eye, use microscopes. They are essential tools in many fields of science, including biology, geology, and materials science. There are various types of microscopes, including optical microscopes, electron microscopes, and scanning probe microscopes, each with its own capabilities and uses. Using a microscope can reveal a whole new world of detail, but it also requires skill and practice to use effectively.

Test Tubes

Test tubes are small glass tubes used for holding, mixing, or heating small quantities of liquid or solid chemicals. They are one of the most common pieces of lab equipment and are used in a variety of experiments. 


ou should hold test tubes in a test tube rack when not in use. When heating, point it away from people and heat it slowly to avoid the risk of the contents boiling over.

Beakers

Use beakers for stirring, mixing, and heating lab liquids. Beakers have a cylindrical shape with a flat bottom and a small spout for pouring. Manufacturers usually make beakers out of glass or plastic, and they come in various sizes to match your needs

Lab personnel often use beakers for rough estimates rather than for precise measurements. You should heat a beaker slowly and evenly to prevent the risk of breakage.

key laboratory equipment for beginners

Proper Maintenance for these Lab Materials

These lab tools won’t be as accurate as you once bought them if not taken care of regularly. It would also cost you in the long run if you would need to buy a new set of lab materials, not to mention the logistics and shipping times needed if you bought your apparatus from a lab equipment supplier online. With that in mind, let’s go over some tips to make sure you’re lab materials are in peak condition:

For Thermometers 

To maintain thermometers, avoid extreme temperature changes to prevent the glass from breaking. Clean them after use with appropriate cleaning solutions and store them in a safe, dry place. For digital and infrared thermometers, ensure the sensor is clean and free from dust or dirt. Regularly check the battery level and replace as needed.

For Balances 

Keep balances clean and free from dust or debris that could affect measurements. Avoid overloading the balance beyond its capacity. Store balances in a stable environment with consistent temperature and humidity to prevent drift in measurements. Regularly check for signs of wear or damage.

For Graduated Cylinders 

Clean graduated cylinders immediately after use to prevent residue buildup. Handle them with care to avoid breakage. Store them upright in a safe place. Do not use a graduated cylinder to measure corrosive substances that could etch the glass and affect the accuracy of measurements.

For Bunsen Burners 

Ensure the gas nozzle and air vents of Bunsen burners are clean and clear. Regularly check the rubber tubing for cracks or leaks. After use, ensure the gas supply is turned off.

For Flasks 

Clean flasks immediately after use. Handle them with care to avoid breakage. When heating, use a heat-resistant mat and ensure the flask is not directly in contact with the flame. Store them in a safe place where they won’t tip over.

For Pipettes 

Clean pipettes after each use with appropriate cleaning solutions. Handle them with care to avoid breakage or damage to the tip. Store them in an upright position to prevent liquid from entering the pipette bulb. Regularly check for signs of wear or damage.

For Petri Dishes 

After use, dispose of the contents of Petri dishes according to your lab’s safety protocols. Clean them thoroughly before reuse. Store them in a dry and dust-free environment. Always handle petri dishes with clean hands or gloves to prevent contamination.

For Microscopes 

To make this relatively expensive (yet essential) lab material last longer, always carry a microscope with both hands (one on the arm and one under the base). Clean the lenses after each use with lens paper or a soft, lint-free cloth to remove oil and dust. 

Never use regular paper or cloth as they can scratch the lenses. Store the microscope under a dust cover when not in use. Regularly check the mechanical parts for smooth operation and the electrical parts for any signs of damage.

For Test Tubes 

After use, clean test tubes thoroughly with appropriate cleaning solutions to remove any residue. Rinse them well with distilled water and let them air dry in a test tube rack. Handle test tubes with care to avoid breakage. Never heat a capped test tube, as this could cause pressure to build up and the test tube to explode.

For Beakers 

Clean beakers immediately to prevent residue from hardening. Use a brush to clean the inside of the beaker if necessary. Handle beakers with care to avoid breakage. When heating a beaker, use a heat-resistant mat and ensure the beaker is not directly in contact with the flame. Store beakers in a safe place where they won’t tip over.

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