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.
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.
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!
Many biology lab activities involve dissection of specimens. In addition to protective eyewear and gloves (which you should use any time you are working in the lab), you will probably be using forceps, scalpels, and dissecting scissors. Each of these pieces of equipment will help you cut open your sample properly so that you can investigate what's inside. Additionally, you may also use pins to help hold your specimen open.
If you're preparing any kind of sample in the lab, you'll certainly want to take a closer look at it. For this, biologists use microscopes, of which there are several different kinds. Generally, a small sample is taken from the larger experiment and either placed on a microscope slide or in a petri dish. In this way, you can put the smaller sample under the microscope for examination, which is especially helpful for very small objects that can't be seen with the human eye.
You may also use test tubes in your biology lab experiments. These are quite useful because they can hold liquids for observation as well as for running reactions. Most of the time, test tubes will be held in a test tube holder, which is handy if you have many test tubes, but like most humans, only have two hands!
Working in the biology lab is a fun and rewarding experience. There are many pieces of equipment that can help you run your experiments, and it's important to know what each does so that you can use it correctly. In the biology lab, we measure, test, and observe. Depending on your specific experimental need, you may choose one piece of equipment over the other. And although some biology labs have very specialized and high-tech equipment, most labs will employ some basic, universal tools that you need to familiarize yourself with.
After you've completed this lesson, you'll be able to:
- Identify many pieces of equipment used in the lab to measure objects, liquids and temperature
- Describe different types of lab equipment that can be used to heat objects and dissect specimens
- Explain the functions of microscopes, microscope slides and petri dishes
- Describe how test tubes and test tube holders are used in laboratories
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