Beakers and bottles, dispensers and droppers, pipettes and Laboratory glassware. Labware like this used to be available in just one material–glass. A glass beaker may last indefinitely, as long as it isn’t dropped or heated too quickly or filled up with certain highly reactive chemicals.
But imagine if a chemist should boil some chemical brew? Enter Pyrex, a borosilicate glass that can be obtained from hot to cold extremes without breaking.
And how about the researcher who needs a huge selection of small vials, and doesn’t wish to spend the time or money to wash them between uses? Enter plastic–a material both cheap and disposable.
After which there’s the scientist who demands a beaker manufactured from something as inert as you possibly can. Behold Teflon, a polymer that reacts with only a few substances.
These are just some of the rapidly expanding choices available in glassware and plasticware for scientific labs. Glass is really a few millennia older than plastic, but both materials have distinct advantages. So when 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 were made around 2600 B.C. While no 4,000-year-old beakers are saved to record, today’s pieces of laboratory glassware, with proper care, could become museum pieces–or maybe even always be utilized–in the year 2600 A.D.
In recent history, new plastics have pushed their distance to the formerly glass-dominated domain of labware. Furthermore, automation has reduced the role of glassware in many labs. But the glass industry has responded to advertise changes and it is not ready to be pushed out of your lab for good.
Reusable glassware hasn’t changed much over time, as outlined by Andrew LaGrotte, group marketing manager at Schott America Glass & Scientific Products Inc. of Yonkers, N.Y. “Whoever invented the essential shapes had some foresight, since these shapes remain used today,” he says. Scientists generally choose their labware based on specific applications and private preference. “The basic vessel utilized in the laboratory today, the beaker, can be purchased in a wide array of materials,” says John Babashak of Wheaton Scientific, operating out of Millville, N.J. Chemists can pick beakers made of a borosilicate glass for example Pyrex, plastic, or even platinum, based on the amount of heat and chemical resistance needed. Even beakers made from paper can be found, for paint chemists.
But overall, scientists’ desire for pH paper has become reduced with the roll-out 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] items like tubes, beakers, Erlenmeyer flasks, and pipettes.”
An obvious drawback to glass in comparison with plastic is its tendency to break. “Folks are careful during use not to break glass, simply because this might expose them to a hazardous situation, like toxic agents, carcinogens, radioactive or biological hazards,” says Nicoll. This care fails to necessarily extend with other 36dexnpky of labwork, however. “By and far, the glass washing and preparation areas break one of the most glass,” he notes.
Although it isn’t a great strategy to the trouble of breakage, a lot of the smaller specialty companies do offer glass repair. A pricey component of ammeter –an automated buret, for instance–might be repaired for approximately half the expense of a fresh one, 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 when they were new.”
Despite the danger of breakage, glass has several positive aspects over plastic. Solvents, for instance, can dissolve some plastics, explains Nicoll. Some plastics are gas-permeable, so materials which could oxidize or experience a pH change are usually kept in glass containers. In addition, 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 utilized most regularly.