Handling Laboratory Solutions, Chemicals & Biological Materials

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
Working in a laboratory requires careful attention, both for safety and successful completion of tasks. Learn about the many ways biological and chemical substances need to be properly prepared, identified, stored, dispensed, and disposed of.

Handling Dangerous Substances

You'd never want to lose your vision, hearing or fingers would you? Likewise you wouldn't want to burn your hands, poison your lungs, or contract some deadly disease, right? Of course not!

In that case, you'll always need to take extreme caution when handling any biological or chemical materials, including solutions - homogeneous mixtures of one or more substances. Chemicals can include the likes of drugs, and biological material can include the likes of vials of dangerous viruses or bacteria. In this lesson, we'll go over some fundamental but very important techniques involved in preparing, identifying, storing, dispensing, and disposing of such substances.

Preparation of Lab Samples

When working in a lab, hospital, research facility or any other place that deals with chemical or biological samples, you may be tasked with preparing these substances for later use. The exact precautions you'll need to take will vary with the setting and with what kinds of samples you work with, but here are some generally accepted practices to help keep you safe.

Always wear gloves. The gloves can be latex gloves, or nitrile gloves if you're allergic to latex gloves, and they may need to be sterile. This may be particularly important in cases where you need to prepare formulations that are free from any contamination. You wear these gloves to not only avoid contamination of the substance you're preparing but also to avoid being burned by some chemical, like an acid, or infected with some dangerous bacterium.

If necessary, wear a face mask or shield, as well as goggles. A face shield will protect your face from getting burned from a chemical and goggles will protect your eyes. In some instances, you'll be preparing chemicals that give off very dangerous and toxic fumes that may make you choke, or gag, or cough. In those cases, you should work in very well-ventilated areas and/or in labs that use fume hoods, which will limit your exposure to toxic fumes.

A fume hood
A fume hood

Additionally, you might be required to wear gowns, booties for your shoes, specialized clothing like rubber boots, or even full hazmat suits when preparing dangerous chemical or biological samples.

A Hazmat suit
Hazmat suit

Identification of Lab Samples

Once you've prepared a biological or chemical sample, it's critical you identify what it is by labeling the container it's in. Sometimes, it's just a matter of using a permanent marker to write on the outside surface exactly what's in the beaker, syringe, or another container. Other times you'll use sticker or label. Identification is critical not only so experimental procedures aren't compromised but so that others who didn't prepare the container know what's in it!

Storing, Dispensing, and Disposing of Chemical and Biological Materials

Now that you've prepared and identified your chemical or biological sample, you'll need to store it. How you store it, again, depends on what you've created. Concerns related to storage include how some samples may interact with light, temperature, moisture, and related factors.

Some chemical and biological samples will have to be refrigerated in order to remain effective. Other ones will need to be placed in dark beakers to avoid being broken down by light. Further still, others will have to be placed in a dry place to avoid being disintegrated by humidity.

Once you've identified the best way to store your prepared substance, you may need to dispense it for others. Dispensing methods can vary depending on the setting and the kind of sample you're working with. One example that demonstrates the kinds of factors you'll need to consider is the dispensing of drugs.

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