Scientific laboratories are places – usually facilities within a government or private enterprise – where scientific research is carried out. The type of tasks carried out in scientific laboratories include research into medicine, drugs foodstuffs, chemicals, the human body, animals and plant life and much more besides. The laboratories can be situated in various types of location as long as there is the ability to provide controlled conditions and carry out the experiments safely.
Types of Scientific Laboratory
Types of laboratory include clinical and medical laboratories, analytical / quality laboratories, R&D labs (research and development), production laboratories and cleanrooms. Engineering is a whole branch on its own and is subdivided into categories such as physics where you might expect to see a particle accelerator, biology with scientific research into anything that is living and chemistry lab where chemical elements and compounds are experimented with and analyzed.
Also worth a mention are incubator laboratories and biosafety labs. These are specialist types of laboratory, incubators are primarily used to develop and grow cells and microbiological cultures while biosafety laboratories are used to study dangerous and infectious agents that are harmful to humans. Both of these operate under very strict conditions, conditions in incubator labs are highly controlled from a science point of view with temperature, pressure, humidity and gas levels within the lab being very tightly regulated. Biosafety laboratories are equally heavily regulated but this time for safety above all else. Biosafety labs are often in federal or government buildings and usually in secret or off the radar locations.
The typical image that comes to mind when a scientific laboratory is mentioned is one of scientists with white coats, long workbenches covered with Bunsen burners and all sorts of glasses and vials. This indeed is the most common scene in a science lab and the following is a brief description of some of the equipment you might find there along with their uses.
Many people first encounter a Bunsen burner whilst doing science experiments at school. A Bunsen burner is a simple device that provides a heat source for science experiments and procedures. The burner consists basically of a vertical pipe on a flat base with a gas supply, usually tapped into a common gas ring under the work benches. The gas is controlled by an adjustable valve to vary the supply depending on how high a flame is required.
A test tube is a small glass container specifically designed for scientific laboratories. Test tubes are usually either heated with a Bunsen burner on the base of the tube or placed in racks to observe the outcome of adding its contents. The test tube is designed to be heated at the bottom while remaining cool at the top of the tube, its fluted opening at the top making it easy to pour from and the overall design making it easy to clean. As well as glass, there are specialist test tubes made of ceramic, metal or plastic but these are far less common than standard glass test tubes.
As well as test tubes, there are other glass containers in the science laboratory with beakers being the main one. The beaker is a flat-bottomed glass container with a measurement scale engraved on the outside. As well as measuring, beakers are used for mixing and also heating liquids.
Also comes under the category of glassware in the lab, volumetric flasks are used wherever precision measurement is important and the volume in the flask needs to be exact. The volumetric flask only holds an exact quantity of liquid at a specific temperature and is usually pear shaped with an long neck and a flat base. There is a vast range of sizes available going down as low a 1 milliliter and as high as 200 liters
Every scientific laboratory has one or more of these, a microscope is a standard piece of lab equipment. It’s used to magnify small object to enable detail to be seen or to examine things that would normally be invisible to the naked human eye. Although there are various types of microscope, general science labs use the most common of these which is an optical microscope. This operates by passing natural light through lenses and can achieve magnification of up to 1500 times.
Also known as Florence flasks, these are typically 1 liter in capacity. The boiling flask is used for – as the name suggests – boiling liquids. The body of the flask is spherically shaped which aids in heating the contents evenly. Material of manufacture is normally borosilicate glass which is great for resistance to heat and which not break down chemically even at high temperatures.
The number one most important thing in a laboratory as with any workplace is safety. Keeping personnel safe always has to come first and the environment in the lab should be geared towards safety at all times. Simple common-sense steps that can be taken include:
- proper storage and handling of chemicals and other hazardous materials
- prompt cleaning up of any spills to stop any slips
- maintaining clear floor areas to prevent trips
- ensuring proper procedures are in place so that only qualified personnel can undertake potentially dangerous or hazardous activities
- regular safety checks and monitoring of alarm procedures