Beakers and bottles, dispensers and droppers, pipettes and Crucible. Labware similar to this used to be available in a single material–glass. A glass beaker may last indefinitely, so long as it isn’t dropped or heated too fast or filled up with certain highly reactive chemicals.
But can you imagine if a chemist needs to boil some chemical brew? Enter Pyrex, a borosilicate glass that may be taken from hot to cold extremes without having to break.
And have you considered the researcher who needs a huge selection of small vials, and doesn’t wish to spend the time or money to clean them between uses? Enter plastic–a material both cheap and disposable.
And then there’s the scientist who needs a beaker made from something as inert as possible. Behold Teflon, a polymer that reacts with not many substances.
They are just some of the rapidly expanding choices offered in glassware and plasticware for scientific labs. Glass can be a few millennia over the age of plastic, but both materials have distinct advantages. So that as advances in glass and plastic technology continue, neither material seems in danger of becoming obsolete soon.
The oldest known glass objects are beads from Egypt that had been made around 2600 B.C. While no 4,000-year-old beakers are on record, today’s components of laboratory glassware, with care, could become museum pieces–or perhaps even still be in use–in the year 2600 A.D.
In recent history, new plastics have pushed their distance to the formerly glass-dominated domain of labware. Additionally, automation has reduced the role of glassware in numerous labs. But the glass industry has responded to market changes and it is not willing to be pushed out from the lab forever.
Reusable glassware hasn’t changed much over time, in accordance with Andrew LaGrotte, group marketing manager at Schott America Glass & Scientific Products Inc. of Yonkers, N.Y. “Whoever invented the standard shapes had some foresight, because these shapes remain used today,” he says. Scientists generally choose their labware according to specific applications and personal preference. “The particular basic vessel found in the laboratory today, the beaker, is available in a wide range of materials,” says John Babashak of Wheaton Scientific, operating out of Millville, N.J. Chemists can pick beakers manufactured from a borosilicate glass for example Pyrex, plastic, as well as platinum, based on the level of heat and chemical resistance needed. Even beakers made from paper can be purchased, for paint chemists.
But overall, scientists’ desire for Pipette tip has become 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 true with commodity [standard] stuff like tubes, beakers, Erlenmeyer flasks, and pipettes.”
An apparent problem with glass in comparison to plastic is its tendency to destroy. “Folks are careful during use not to break glass, since this might expose these to a hazardous situation, such as toxic agents, carcinogens, radioactive or biological hazards,” says Nicoll. This care does not necessarily extend with other 36dexnpky of labwork, however. “By and far, the glass washing and preparation areas break probably the most glass,” he notes.
While it isn’t a perfect means to fix the trouble of breakage, many of the smaller specialty companies provide glass repair. A costly component of ammeter –an automatic buret, by way of example–may be repaired for approximately half the price of a completely new one, says Bob Cheatley, president of Cal-Glass for Research Inc., a Costa Mesa, Calif.-based company that does repairs as part of its specialty glass business. “[Repaired items] don’t look as good, but they’re as functional as once they were new.”
Despite the danger of breakage, glass has several positive aspects over plastic. Solvents, as an example, can dissolve some plastics, explains Nicoll. Some plastics are gas-permeable, so materials that could oxidize or experience a pH change are usually saved 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 where there’s a sterility requirement, glass is used most regularly.