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Thread: Advice on using laboratory equipment

  1. #1 Advice on using laboratory equipment 
    Forum Freshman
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    Nov 2008
    Hi all,

    I'm a latecomer to studying the sciences. For health reasons I was unable to attend middle school or high school at all and had to be home schooled instead. Due to my medical situation, I was only able to take on a limited number of selected subjects to study at home. Although I initially studied a small amount of science theory, I soon dropped all science subjects completely due to the impracticality of being unable to undertake many experimental investigations in a home setting (it was easier at that time to focus my concentration on other less practical, more home friendly subjects such as math, languages, humanities etc.) I never worried too much about missing out on the sciences at the time as I didn't anticipate the great interest I would have in them in the future.
    However, a year and a half ago I decided to undertake home-study courses in Biology and Chemistry. Over this period of a year and a half I've been playing major catch-up with all the content one would learn from middle school level upwards. Up until now I have not been required to spend any time in a laboratory (I have not been in a lab at all since pre middle school). However, I am shorty required to take examinations in practical lab skills as part of my course. This will be my first time working in a lab and I'm terrified as I will be going into it blind! I have no familiarity whatsoever with the laboratory equipment, nor any knowledge on correct way of using it. I will be required to undertake a number of high school level experiments, the nature of which I will be completely in the dark about until the exam itself. At the moment I am trying my best to educate myself as much as I can (through the internet) about the different pieces of equipment found in a high school lab and how to correctly use them. I've also been looking at videos of various high school level experiments. I unfortunately don't have even the most foundation of knowledge about high school lab equipment and how to use it. I'm quite desperate!

    I wonder if anybody here might be so kind as to offer me some guidance about the kind of equipment I would expect to find in a high school lab (I've mentioned some that I know of below) and how to go about using it correctly. I'd be very appreciative if anyone could give me any tips or point me to some helpful websites or videos with explanations on the various pieces of equipment.


    Might anyone suggest any good precautions to take when using lab equipment to improve the reliability of results of experiments? The kind of lab equipment I'm referring to, as I mentioned, is the standard stuff you find in high school labs e.g. Bunsen burner, gauze, water bath, pipettes, syringe, beaker, scales, measuring cylinders, clamp stand, spatula, spotting tile, thermometer, universal indicator paper, stop watch, pestle and mortar etc.
    Really anything that is commonly used in a high school lab experiment (not anything overly sophisticated).

    What I really need to know is any tips or ways of utilizing different pieces of equipment that will help ensure the most reliable possible results in an experiment.
    For example, when using a SYRINGE filled with a solution - in an experiment to measure the rate of flow of the solution by timing how long it takes for it to drain into a beaker (a viscosity test) - various good precautions to take in using the syringe would include:
    . Read the meniscus at eye-level.
    . Place white paper behind the syringe so that the meniscus level can properly be seen.
    . Use a clamp stand when draining the solution from the syringe into the beaker to keep the syringe at a vertical angle (the same as the beaker) and help achieve the most reliable measurement of the time it takes for a solution to drain, etc.

    Precautions to take when using a measuring cylinder would also include:

    . Reading the meniscus at eye-level.
    . Placing white paper behind the syringe so that the meniscus level can properly be seen.

    Miscellaneous precautions I also know to take to help attain reliable results include:

    . Observe the color of solutions against a white background.
    . Wash and dry equipment before each reuse.
    . When timing (using a stop watch) the rate of flow of a certain volume of solution from a syringe into a beaker, choose the same end point to stop the timer for each repeat of the experiment.
    . Do repeat experiments.
    . Do a control experiment.
    . Keep confounding variables controlled.

    Could anyone possibly advise me on other good precautions to take when using lab equipment? (Advice would be highly appreciated for any piece of lab equipment found in a high school lab, including any of the ones I mentioned above, plus any other pieces you might think of.) What common mistakes are made?

    Also, any general tips for the lab or advice on important things I should take into consideration when doing an experiment (high school level) would be hugely helpful!

    Examples of the types of tips I'm looking for that would be especially useful include:

    . Use the same equipment to test each of the independent variable factors.
    . Remember to take into consideration the likelihood of an approximation error in results as a result of an inaccurate measurement given by the equipment used (e.g a stop watch gives an approximation error as result of the time it takes the experimenter to start and stop it).

    Also, Could anyone please give me advice on ways to reduce an the effect of an approximation error? (E.g. in an experiment to measure the rate of flow of a solution from a syringe, using a larger volume of the solution and a larger syringe may give a smaller percentage error as the time it takes for the experimenter to start and stop the timer would not have such a great effect.)

    Is there any other equipment in a high school lab (apart from a stop watch) which can give a result with an approximation error?

    One further thing! I'm very unsure how to set up a clamp stand (I know it must be pretty simple, but I've never actually done it before so uncertain!) Is there anywhere online I can find out? (The only websites I've seen are the ones selling clamp stands).

    I'm really looking for any advice about the lab and its equipment I can get as I have no experience at all in conducting experiments. I'm concerned that I'm going to make a lot of mistakes in my upcoming examinations because unfamiliarity and sloppy use of equipment. Unfortunately it will be impossible for me to use a laboratory/hire any time before the exams. I'd be really grateful if anyone with chemistry or biology experience might offer me some advice!

    Many thanks! I truly appreciate any help.
    I apologize for the very long winded post!

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  3. #2  
    Forum Bachelors Degree 15uliane's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2011
    The most useful piece of lab equipment is a partener/assistant. That reduces approximation errors and can help keep track of what can be really hectic- stuff is boiling of and you have to take temps while making observations while making sure test tubes of chemicals aren't smashing.
    Once you have test tubes, beakers, stands, burners, syringes, droppers, flasks, stoppers, massing trays, balances, graduated cylinders, various substances, animal parts, petri dishes, microscopes, aprons, glasses, gloves, burner screens, evaporation dishes, eyewash, funnels, filter paper, scalpels, "scoopulas", dissecting trays, tongs, thermometers, jewelers glass... off into the distance. It would be good to look on the internet. Maybe you already have?
    There are a couple of rules too,always add acid (instead of adding other stuff to the acid) is one that comes to mind.

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