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Tips for Working in Science Laboratories

Tips for Working in Science Laboratories

As a student, whether you're in college or high school, you will definitely take some science classes in which you will need to perform labs.  Perhaps you may even have a job as a scientist.  Regardless, here's some tips for working in these types of labs, whether it may pertain to biology, chemistry, or physics.

1) Safety.  Always remember, safety first.  This means always wearing your personal protective equipment, which includes lab coats, goggles, and gloves.  Lab coats are meant to be flame retardant and also to prevent chemicals from spilling on your street clothes.  Also, if you are working with organic solvents, be sure that your gloves are nitrile, not latex, since nitrile is more resistant to dissolution.  Lastly, know where the safety shower, fire extinguisher, eye-wash stations, and emergency exits are.

2) Follow the procedure.  Not only should you follow the procedure, but you should be fairly familiar with it before you enter the lab setting.  This way, you can finish in an efficient amount of time, without having to ask too many questions.  The best way to familiarize yourself with the procedure is to handwrite the procedure in your lab notebook, while imagining that you are performing the lab.

3) Know the underlying theories and principles.  Do not just follow the procedure simply because it says so.  For example, ask yourself why you must lower the temperature, or why you are adding certain chemicals.  Know the relevant scientific theories to logically know why you are performing each step of the procedure.  This way, you will have a more enjoyable experience if you understand the lab, and furthermore, it will develop your critical thinking in case you have to perhaps develop your own procedure for something in the future.

4) Label everything.  Label all your containers with the names of the chemicals they contain.  This is because many liquid chemicals are clear, and they may easily be confused with other chemicals, or even just water.  Many solid chemicals are white, and therefore, can also be mixed up easily.  Be sure to appropriately label your containers so you do not accidentally mix things up.

5) Write down everything you do.  Of course, you do not need to write down absolutely everything you do.  For example, since you are expected to follow the procedure step by step, you do not need to write that down, but rather, you should write down observations and numerical data.  For example, if you notice a color change after the addition of a certain chemical, you can write that down.  Also, write down all of your numerical data.  For example, if the procedure asks you to get 1 milliliter of a certain chemical, and you only got 0.9 milliliters because of how difficult it is to obtain an exact volume, then you should write that down.

6) Be aware of safety hazards.  First, be aware all equipments are functioning properly, being sure that no outlets or short-circuited and there are no malfunctions of the machine.  Furthermore, also be aware of hazardous chemicals, their effects on you, and how you should handle them.  If you are in doubt, it is best to assume it's dangerous.  When it comes to glassware, look out for even the smallest cracks, because if cracked glassware is heated, it can easily and quickly shatter.  Lastly, if you are heating something, do not touch it, even if you think it has cooled, because hot glassware does not always appear to be so.

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