The term laboratory glassware is used to describe a wide range of scientific equipment, that was, until the use of plastic became more common, generally made from glass.
Glass is a very flexible substance that can be worked into a vast selection of shapes and sizes through moulding, cutting and, most commonly, blowing.
Scientific glass blowers are specialists at creating complex items of laboratory glassware entirely by hand. Typically, the glass starts as a rod or tube, and an open flame is used to heat the glass, making manipulation possible.
Scientific glass blowing is a very specialist skill that is sadly being lost in the UK. It is estimated that there are fewer than 200 skilled glass blowers still operating, with many of these due to retire soon.
Working with Laboratory Glassware
Glass is extremely durable, resistant to heat and chemicals and can be easily sterilised. Perhaps the greatest benefit, when used in scientific experiments, is its transparent qualities, as this allows experiments to be easily observed.
However, when working with glass in a laboratory setting, it’s important to consider its limitations in terms of thermal shock and mechanical stress. New staff members need to be appropriately trained in the usage and handling of laboratory glassware, and strict safety measure should be adhered to.
When creating an exothermic reaction, make sure that the experiment takes place in a suitable vessel such as an Erlenmeyer flask. It is also important to avoid warming volumetric equipment on heating plates as this can cause breakage.
Laboratory Glassware and Mechanical Resistance
You may be surprised to know that, at the atomic level, glass is an elastic material. This means that when glass is placed under stress, it will deform thanks to its atomic bonding structure. The change is none permanent, and when the stress is removed, the glass will revert to its original shape.
The tensile strength of glass is relatively low and any damage, such as cracks or scratches, will only lower this further. When conducting experiments that require temperature changes, be sure to select the most appropriate glassware. Quartz glass is capable of withstanding very high temperatures and can be used when standard laboratory glassware, made from Borosilicate glass, isn’t suitable.
Laboratory Glassware and Chemical Resistance
Laboratory Glassware is typically manufactured from borosilicate glass which is resistant to most types of acid. In fact, glass is generally highly chemical resistant but is vulnerable to alkaline substances with a 9.0 or greater PH. Alkalis attack the surface of the glass, breaking down the bonds between the silica and oxygen. The glass surface dissolves, and the overall structure of the equipment is compromised.
What is Laboratory Glassware Summary
Glass was traditionally the only option when it came to producing laboratory equipment. However, plastic has become commonplace with many more basic items now produced almost exclusively in the lower-cost material. However, glass still has its place in the laboratory thanks to its unique properties and skilled scientific glass blowers’ abilities to produce bespoke items for specific experiments.