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A laboratory or lab is a facility and/or workroom that provides controlled conditions for scientific or technological research, experiments, analysis or measurement, either professional or amateur. Laboratories are generally well defined places, separate from other chambers, with specific guidelines and requirements.
Labs are rooms equipped with a variety of scientific instruments, such as glassware, measurement apparatus, workbench, cabinets, fume hoods and sometimes gloveboxes for work that requires inert atmosphere.
The most important lab equipment are:
Every lab requires a weighing scale, a thermometer and a source of heat.
Although once commonplace, an open flame for a heat source has largely been replaced by the hotplate and stirrer combination, mostly due to ease-of-use, secondly due to the reduced explosion hazard with volatile chemicals.
A source of cooling water is needed for reflux operations, which can be supplied by normal tap water or a bucket and pump arrangement.
A well equipped lab will have a vacuum pump of some nature, possibly a simple Venturi type, right up to a multi-stage purpose-build pump.
By far the most common laboratory glassware is the humble test tube.
Next are all sorts of glass containers, ranging from simple bottles, through beakers, conical flasks, round flasks, even long-necked quantitative measuring flasks.
Probably the most iconic lab glassware is the distillation apparatus, consisting of a boiling flask and a condenser, of which there are many types. Separatory funnels are commonly used in liquid extractions.
Reagents are necessary when doing any form of chemistry. Any serious chemist must have some essential reagents, which are a must in any chemical lab. Important reagents include:
- Acids: acetic acid, formic acid, hydrochloric acid, nitric acid, sulfuric acid
- Bases: sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide, calcium hydroxide, ammonia
- Salts: sodium chloride, calcium chloride, copper(II) sulfate, potassium nitrate, ammonium nitrate, sodium bicarbonate, magnesium sulfate
- Metals: aluminium, copper, iron, magnesium, sodium, zinc
- Nonmetals: bromine, carbon, chlorine, iodine, phosphorus, sulfur
- Organic solvents: acetone, chloroform, diethyl ether, ethanol, ethyl acetate, isopropanol, methanol, mineral oil, toluene, xylene
- Inorganic solvents: water (tap or distilled)
- pH indicators: phenolphthalein, methyl orange, litmus
- Oxidizers: hydrogen peroxide, sodium hypochlorite
- Miscellaneous reagents: charcoal, nitromethane, silicone grease, urea, etc.
Reagents are best kept in cabinets or closets, sorted by their type and compatibility. You can also keep your reagents on shelves or various boxes. Corrosive or volatile reagents should be kept in special cabinets or in sealed boxes.
Corrosive or hazardous products that cannot be properly neutralized quickly, contain valuable or toxic metal ions or require special disposal are to be stored in chemical resistant bottles, usually glass, generally in a ventilated area. These waste tanks must be properly labeled to prevent any accidental mixing of incompatible chemicals.
Furniture, like cabinets, chairs, closets, cupboards, shelves and tables are needed in the lab to store reagents and lab apparatus, as well as a working bench for the reactions.
Starting a lab
First, one will need to choose a place generally away from dwelling space. A shed is a good choice, as it offers natural ventilation which prevents the build-up of flammable vapors and toxic compounds. However, unless you live in a geographical area where winters are mild or non-existent, sheds or other locations with natural ventilation may not be a good choice for your lab, as it will get too cold inside and this will interfere with various reactions or other processes. This isn't a problem if your lab is properly insulated though. If you live in a small place, like an apartment, you can keep your lab glassware and reagents in closed plastic containers, and if you have a balcony, it can be used as a good place to perform your experiments, even though this option may not offer you complete privacy.
Electricity and water are a must. While you can use generators if the location is not near the grid, they tend to be noisy and require fuel. You can also rely on alternative power sources, like solar or wind, if possible.
Water is vital to the well functioning of the lab, and tap water is cheap and suitable to most reactions and procedures. If distilled water is required, you can hook up a water distiller to your tap water. If you cannot get water from tap, you can use barrels or tanks full of water.
Natural gas is needed if you use burners as heating source. You can get it by either connecting to the gas grid or using LPG tanks.
Your lab should be connected to a drain or, if that is not possible, to a waste container.
Garbage bins should be used for collecting trash. Just don't dump hazardous items in it.
If your lab is set rented space, you will need to pay rent.
The cost of staring a lab depends on what equipment you need for your experiments. If basic lab equipment is required, it won't cost you more than a few hundred bucks (this does not include the lab space). OTC products, both reagents and equipment usually have acceptable prices, while more sophisticated lab equipment and higher purity reagents tend to cost a bit more.
Most chemists tend to spend between 1,000-4,000 $ for reagents, glassware and other equipment, though the cost differs from country.
Working in a lab involves various risks, ranging from workplace injuries to exposure to various dangerous reagents.
The lowest level of PPE required are eye protection, gloves and protective clothing.
Beyond these measures, a positive pressure suit and/or radiation protection could be required for extremely dangerous work.