still life of five laboratory flasks photographed backlit

Common Chemistry Lab Glassware

Let’s take a look at the most common chemistry lab glassware. From chemistry to cell culture, there is one thing all science laboratories will always have infinite use for – glassware. Scientific glassware has been in use for centuries, starting with ancient Phoenicians, who used campfires to melt and fuse obsidian into useful tools. We’ve progressed considerably since then, but the usefulness of glass equipment is as constant as it ever was. Indeed, you would be hard-pressed to find an experiment in any kind of scientific lab that doesn’t involve at least one of the tools listed in this article!

There are some things most pieces of laboratory glassware have in common. All laboratory glassware, with very few exceptions, is made with borosilicate glass. Borosilicate glass is made primarily using silica and boron trioxide (an oxide of boron). This glass is extremely resistant to thermal stress. It also has excellent resistance against most chemicals (excluding sodium hydride, which can react with it). Both of these properties make it ideal for laboratory work. There are some alternatives, like fused quartz, which are also very resistant and sturdy, but the low cost of manufacture means that borosilicate glass wins out for common use.

In this article, we go over the most typical uses for common laboratory glassware. However, it’s worth noting that these are not the only uses! Scientists know how to take advantage of whatever they have on hand, so don’t be surprised if one day you walk into a lab and see someone using a watch glass as a lid, or a beaker as a mini trash receptacle. We make do!

Lab Glassware: Beakers
You’re bound to find at least a dozen of these in any lab you go to. Beakers are the most common type of laboratory glassware. They are primarily used for pouring, mixing, and measuring liquids. They’re typically found in volumes ranging from 10 mL to 1000 mL, although larger volumes are available. However, they’re not the most accurate. Most beakers are printed with an error percentage, which usually ranges from 5-10%. In other words, if you filled a 500 mL beaker up to the top mark, you might have anywhere from 450 to 550 mL in it. This is fine in situations where exact measurements aren’t important, but for more precise solutions one would typically use a different piece of equipment for the job.

Lab Glassware: Erlenmeyer Flasks
Erlenmeyer flasks, also known as conical flasks, are flat-bottomed flasks with a wide base and narrow neck. Their shape makes them ideal for swirling liquids to mix them without the risk of spilling. Because of this, they’re commonly used for titration experiments. They’re also used for boiling liquids- their shape results in less solvent loss as hot vapor will condense on the upper section of the flask. In microbiology, they’re used for growing cell cultures. Erlenmeyer flasks are available in a wide range of sizes, typically ranging from 250 to 2000 mL (although larger sizes can be found). Fun fact – Erlenmeyer flasks were designed by Emil Erlenmeyer, a German chemist active in the 19th century, who once worked in the lab of Robert Bunsen.

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