Beakers and bottles, dispensers and droppers, pipettes and Microscope. Labware like this was previously available within a material–glass. A glass beaker may last indefinitely, as long as it isn’t dropped or heated too fast or filled up with certain highly reactive chemicals.
But what if a chemist should boil some chemical brew? Enter Pyrex, a borosilicate glass that can be taken from hot to cold extremes without having to break.
And have you considered the researcher who needs countless small vials, and doesn’t desire to spend the time or money to clean them between uses? Enter plastic–a material both cheap and disposable.
And after that there’s the scientist who needs a beaker made from something as inert as possible. Behold Teflon, a polymer that reacts with hardly any substances.
These are typically just some of the rapidly expanding choices offered in glassware and plasticware for scientific labs. Glass is really a few millennia older than plastic, but both materials have distinct advantages. And as advances in glass and plastic technology continue, neither material seems in danger of becoming obsolete in the near future.
The oldest known glass objects are beads from Egypt that were made around 2600 B.C. While no 4,000-year-old beakers are stored on record, today’s pieces of laboratory glassware, with care and attention, could become museum pieces–or simply even always be utilized–during 2600 A.D.
In recent history, new plastics have pushed their distance to the formerly glass-dominated domain of labware. Moreover, automation has reduced the role of glassware in numerous labs. But the glass industry has responded to advertise changes and it is not prepared to be pushed out of the lab forever.
Reusable glassware hasn’t changed much over the years, in accordance with Andrew LaGrotte, group marketing manager at Schott America Glass & Scientific Products Inc. of Yonkers, N.Y. “Whoever invented the basic shapes had some foresight, as these shapes will still be used today,” he says. Scientists generally choose their labware according to specific applications and personal preference. “The basic vessel found in the laboratory today, the beaker, can be found in a variety of materials,” says John Babashak of Wheaton Scientific, operating out of Millville, N.J. Chemists can choose beakers manufactured from a borosilicate glass for example Pyrex, plastic, and even platinum, dependant upon the level of heat and chemical resistance needed. Even beakers manufactured from paper can be purchased, for paint chemists.
But overall, scientists’ necessity for pH paper has been reduced with the creation of unbreakable or single- use disposable plastic items, says Douglas Nicoll, vice president for technical services at Bellco Glass Inc. of Vineland, N.J. “This is especially valid with commodity [standard] stuff like tubes, beakers, Erlenmeyer flasks, and pipettes.”
A clear downside of glass when compared with plastic is its tendency to break. “Folks are careful during use not to break glass, since this might expose these people to a hazardous situation, including toxic agents, carcinogens, radioactive or biological hazards,” says Nicoll. This care fails to necessarily extend for some other 36dexnpky of labwork, however. “By and far, the glass washing and preparation areas break one of the most glass,” he notes.
While it isn’t the perfect means to fix the issue of breakage, lots of the smaller specialty companies provide glass repair. A pricey bit of ammeter –an automated buret, as an example–can be repaired for about half the cost of a replacement, says Bob Cheatley, president of Cal-Glass for Research Inc., a Costa Mesa, Calif.-based company that does repairs as an element of its specialty glass business. “[Repaired items] don’t look nearly as good, but they’re as functional as after they were new.”
Despite the danger of breakage, glass has several advantages over plastic. Solvents, by way of example, can dissolve some plastics, explains Nicoll. Some plastics are gas-permeable, so materials that can oxidize or experience a pH change are usually stored in glass containers. Furthermore, glass is a lot more easily sterilized than most plastics, says Frank Nunziata, sales manager for Pequannock, N.J.’s Bel-Art Products; so how there’s a sterility requirement, glass is utilized normally.