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Scientists require a large amount of equipment in order to successfully plan, complete, and analyze experiments they conduct. The specific apparatus used varies significantly from lab-to-lab and depends mostly on that particular lab’s planned experiments. However, most lab equipment falls into one of a relatively small number of categories.
The bewildering array of available glassware includes several specialized pieces of equipment that scientists use to measure liquids and crystallize solutions. Beakers, which are like a scientific multi-use coffee mug, are used to make solutions and to perform experiments. Scientists use Erlenmeyer flasks to hold different layers of reactions, heat solutions, and grow liquid cultures of bacteria. Students and scientists use graduated cylinders as precise instruments for measuring out different liquids.
Disposable Lab Ware
Disposable lab ware, which includes a large variety of tubes and flasks, is essential to any functioning biological lab. Test tubes, culture tubes and tissue culture flasks all fall under this category. Scientists use culture tubes and flasks to grow bacteria and human cells. Scientists value the completely sterile nature of these tubes; companies manufacture flasks and tubes in sterile conditions, so scientists know that anything they grow in those containers will not be contaminated.
Many lab chemicals need to be stored under very specific conditions in order to work properly. For this reason, the storage facilities are monitored closely to prevent failure–some labs even have alarm systems that alert lab members when a freezer becomes unplugged. Most labs have a variety of cooling equipment, including a refrigerator, a freezer at around -20 degrees Celsius, a second deep freezer set at around -80 degrees Celsius, and a liquid nitrogen tank that keeps cells frozen at -196 degrees Celsius.
The heart of any scientific lab is in its experimental apparatus–the equipment that scientists use to run the necessary tests to gather data and answer questions. This apparatus can take many forms, which vary based on the type of lab and the experiments that it conducts. For example, a staple experimental apparatus for biological labs is the PCR Machine, which replicates and amplifies DNA so that scientists can study it more easily. Chemistry labs are more likely to own equipment like chemical fume hoods, which are large ventilated boxes that chemists use to protect themselves from explosive and toxic chemicals.
Scientists use analytical equipment to generate data from the experiments they perform so that this data can be published. Analytical equipment varies with the experimental equipment used. For example, biologists use spectrophotometers to determine the concentrations of DNA that they have in order to sequence it. Chemists need very precise scales so that they can weigh out their products to determine the all-important chemical yield of their reactions.
Ethan Schwartz has been a scientific and freelance writer for a year, writing scientific literature for "Gene Therapy" and articles on education, health and personal finance for eHow. Schwartz graduated in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science in biological sciences and will begin medical school in July 2010.
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