Common Laboratory Equipment: Types & Uses

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Friedl

Elizabeth, a Licensed Massage Therapist, has a Master's in Zoology from North Carolina State, one in GIS from Florida State University, and a Bachelor's in Biology from Eastern Michigan University. She has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Biologists use all kinds of equipment in their labs to run their experiments. In this lesson, you'll identify some of the most common pieces of equipment as well as when you should or shouldn't use them.

Working in the Laboratory

Working in the laboratory is one of the best parts about being a biologist. There are so many fun activities to do, experiments to run, and things to learn. When doing biology lab activities and experiments, there's a whole host of equipment that may be used. Some of this equipment can be quite fancy and specialized, but for the most part, biologists use some standard stuff to get the job done.

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  • 0:01 Working in the Laboratory
  • 0:23 Taking Measurements
  • 2:38 Heating and Dissection…
  • 3:29 Examining Equipment
  • 4:15 Lesson Summary
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Taking Measurements

When running experiments, taking accurate measurements is crucial. There are a wide variety of measurements that can be taken depending on the task at hand. Some of the most basic measurements in the lab involve length, volume, and mass of objects or substances.

The most common way to measure length is with a ruler. This can be a short hand-held ruler or a long meter stick. To measure the mass of something, we use a balance. This special lab scale gives us mass readings in grams. Thermometers are the instruments we use to measure an object or substance's temperature in °C.

There are a number of ways to measure the volume of a substance in the biology lab. Beakers are a common piece of equipment when the substance will be mixed and/or poured into some other container, and they have a special pouring spout just for this purpose. Beakers come in all different sizes. Smaller beakers are more appropriate for mixing smaller amounts of fluid, while large beakers are appropriate for mixing larger amounts of fluid.

If we simply want to measure the volume of a liquid, we would use a graduated cylinder, which looks like a tall, thin beaker. Graduated cylinders also come in a variety of sizes and are much more accurate for measuring volume than a beaker.

We also use different types of flasks in the biology lab. Most commonly used is the Erlenmeyer flask, which looks like an upside-down funnel. This piece of equipment is used to hold liquids, but because of its narrow neck is not generally used to mix anything.

A Florence flask also has a thin neck, but instead of a cone-shaped bottom, it has a round one. This makes it very useful for boiling liquids, but again, not so much for mixing them.

If you're working with very small volumes, you will likely use eyedroppers and pipettes. Eyedroppers are great for adding one drop of liquid at a time, but not good for measuring exact amounts. A pipette is better for this job and there are two types of these. A volumetric pipette has only one graduation (measurement line) and is used to get that exact volume of liquid. A graduated pipette is not as accurate as a volumetric one, but because it has many graduations, you can measure many different volumes instead of just the one.

Heating & Dissection Equipment

Speaking of heating things in the lab, there are a few handy pieces of equipment that serve this purpose. First is the Bunsen burner, developed by none other than its namesake, Robert Bunsen. This produces a single flame that can be used to heat substances.

A hot plate is an electric source of heat. You can use this to heat glassware or substances, and some hot plates even have magnetic stirrers in them so you don't have to do that yourself!

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