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What Is the Difference Between an Erlenmeyer Flask & a Beaker?

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Science laboratories are full of a variety of devices and instruments, many of which perform similar tasks. Erlenmeyer flasks and beakers, for example, are closely related in purpose. While most basic laboratories could function with one or the other, each technically has unique features.

Erlenmeyer Flask

An Erlenmeyer flask is a device, usually constructed from glass, used to measure liquids, usually in a chemistry or other science laboratory. They range in volume capacity and are characterized by their distinct shape. These flasks are wide at the bottom and taper toward the top. About three-quarters of the way to the top, the tapering ceases and the neck extends straight upward. Erlenmeyer flasks are accurate for measuring to within five percent. The shape of the flask promotes saving the liquids inside because the mouth can easily be fitted with a cork or lid.


A beaker, also referred to as a Griffin beaker, is, like an Erlenmeyer flask, a device used to measure liquids. Usually constructed of glass, beakers are mainstays in chemistry and science laboratories. Unlike Erlenmeyer flasks, beakers are cylindrical, with sides that extend straight upward. At the very top of the beaker is a lip that usually extends slightly outward and a pointed spout to make pouring easier. They are available in a range of volume capacities and are accurate for measuring liquids to within five percent.


Erlenmeyer flasks and beakers serve the same purpose: to measure liquids. Each has a gauge printed on its outside to delineate volume. An experiment by students at Austin Community College in Austin, Texas concluded that beakers are more accurate than flasks by a significant degree. This would suggest that the construction of the flask, including its characteristic shape, makes measuring specific volumes more difficult than the same task is with a beaker, which has a much more conventional shape.


Erlenmeyer flasks and beakers are typically constructed of glass, especially when they are used in science laboratories. Glass is durable, easily cleaned, and nonreactive. Not all glass is created equal, however. More expensive and higher quality flasks and beakers are made from tempered glass; tempered glass allows for the glass to withstand intense temperature variations without cracking or breaking. Some flasks are available with caps to make storage easier.


About the Author

Anne Davis writes pieces on domestic and international travel, automotive maintenance, education and health. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English and history, and is pursuing graduate study in a related field.