Chemistry Lab Equipment: Supplies, Glassware & More

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  • 0:06 Introduction
  • 0:56 Measuring & Grinding
  • 2:18 Dissolving the Salt
  • 3:56 Measuring Density
  • 5:45 Evaporating
  • 8:17 Conclusion
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kristin Born

Kristin has an M.S. in Chemistry and has taught many at many levels, including introductory and AP Chemistry.

When you bake a cake, you use different tools for each step in the process: a bowl for mixing, cups for measuring ingredients and an oven for baking. In this lesson, you will discover the name and purpose of many of the different tools that are used in the chemistry lab.


Just like a mechanic uses different tools for fixing specific parts of a car, and an artist might use a different brush for creating a certain look in a painting, chemists carefully select the tool they are going to use based upon what they're doing. Selecting the most appropriate piece of equipment to make a measurement is one of the most important things you can do to reduce the amount of error in an experiment.

For example, if you need to measure out 2.4 grams of a substance, you would not want to choose a balance that measures out to the nearest gram. You would want one that goes out to the nearest tenth of a gram. So, come on this journey through the chemistry lab, where we are going to see what types of equipment it would take to make a salt water solution and then measure its density.

Measuring and Grinding the Salt

Our first stop is a common piece of equipment: a balance. A balance is used to determine the mass of a substance. Often times, you would first measure a substance's mass, then react it with something and then measure its mass afterward. Balances come in a large variety, and it's best to be sure you're measuring with one that has the precision necessary for the experiment. For example, if you have a small amount of powder you're measuring, you would probably want to use a balance that measures out to the nearest hundredth or thousandth of a gram. If you're measuring the mass of a large amount of a liquid, you may only need a balance that measures out to the nearest gram. For our hypothetical experiment, we're going to measure out 58.4 g of solid sodium chloride (or salt), so we would need to use a balance that measures out to the nearest tenth of a gram.

Liquid-filled beaker on a balance
Beaker on Scale

Once we measure it out, we notice that the salt has large chunks, and it may take a while to dissolve to make our solution. If you ever need to grind a substance into a fine powder, you would want to use a mortar and pestle. This will increase the surface area on our solid by breaking it up into smaller particles and, again, allowing us to dissolve it into solution a lot quicker.

Dissolving the Salt

Next, we will put our salt into a beaker, add some water and stir it to dissolve the salt and form a solution. Beakers also come in many shapes and sizes and they usually have volume markings on them. You should never use them to make a precise measurement, though. The volume markings should only be used as approximations. Beakers are used for mixing, stirring, heating and pouring liquids. While we are stirring the salt and water, we notice that some of it splashes out on the sides. We don't want to lose any more of our solution, so we're going to transfer it to a better piece of glassware for this job: the Erlenmeyer flask.

The Erlenmeyer flask has a narrow neck, so it's often used for containing and mixing solutions. It's very convenient to dissolve solids using these because the narrow neck allows you to swirl the liquid without worrying about it spilling or splashing out.

Okay, now our salt is completely dissolved in the water we added, but we would like to make a 500 mL solution. The best piece of glassware for this job is the volumetric flask which is used for preparing standard solutions. The bottom is great for dissolving or mixing liquids, and the narrow neck is perfect for the precise measurement of a liquid. We start out by pouring our concentrated salt solution from the Erlenmeyer flask into a 500-mL volumetric flask and then filing it up to the line on the neck. What we have created is a 2 molar salt solution (we'll get to molarity in a later lesson).

Measuring the Density of the Salt Water Solution

Three sizes of graduated cylinder
Graduated Cylinder

Now, we just need to determine the density of this solution. As you may remember, density is equal to mass divided by volume. Just like how in a kitchen you probably wouldn't stir up your cake batter in a measuring cup, in a chemistry lab there are certain pieces of glassware for mixing and reacting and certain pieces for measuring. We are going to need to use the best piece of equipment for measuring the exact volume of my solution. We have a couple choices.

First is the graduated cylinder. The graduated cylinder comes in many different sizes and is a very good tool for measuring the volume of a liquid. The size you use is dependent on how much liquid you are measuring. For example, you wouldn't want to measure 50 mL of water with the 500 mL graduated cylinder if you have access to a 50 or 100 mL graduated cylinder.

An even more precise instrument for measuring the volume of a liquid is the burette. The burette is used for precisely measuring the volume of a liquid. Because it is so narrow, it has the capability of measuring down to the nearest tenth of a milliliter. It has a little nozzle at the bottom for dispensing small amounts of liquids, and it's used in titrations when precision is important. We're going to use the burette to measure out 10.0 mL of our salt solution, then place this 10.0 mL of salt solution on the balance, which reads 11.0 g. The density of our salt solution is calculated as mass (11.0 g) divided by volume (10.0 mL), which equals 1.10 g/mL.

Evaporating the Water

Erlenmeyer flask on hot plate (left) and a Bunsen burner (right)
Hot Plate and Bunsen Burner

Now, just for the fun of it, we're going to evaporate the water from the solution and retrieve our salt. Often in a laboratory, you may be separating a liquid from a solid in solution so you'll want to evaporate the liquid using an evaporating dish. Evaporating dishes are very shallow and provide a lot of surface area for the liquid to turn into a gas, leaving the solid behind. The evaporating dish can be heated to speed up the evaporation process.

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