A scientist relies on tools to help make observations, carry out experiments and take measurements. Learn about the scientific tools used in a lab and the advanced tools used by scientists in the life sciences.
One of the most enjoyable things about building something is getting to use all the cool tools. Builders use power saws, drills and electric sanders to turn raw materials into unique creations. Just like builders, scientists use tools to get the results they want. Scientific tools help scientists take precise measurements, carry out experiments and make observations. In this lesson, we will learn about some common scientific tools that you might encounter in your school's science lab as well as some more advanced tools scientists in the life sciences are using to investigate the world around us.
When you look around a science lab, you see a lot of tools. By learning what they are used for, you can conduct experiments. One thing we know about scientists is that they don't like to guess when it comes to collecting data. That's why a typical lab contains quite a few scientific tools for measuring. You have probably used many of these. For instance, in your lab you might have a stopwatch used to measure time, a scale used to measure weight, a measuring tape used to measure length or distance and a thermometer used to measure temperature.
One piece of science equipment that you might not have been introduced to is the graduated cylinder. This is a tool used to accurately measure volume of a liquid. It works somewhat like a measuring cup that you use in your kitchen, but it is more precise. Graduated cylinders are tall and narrow and usually made of glass or plastic. Along the side, you find horizontal lines that reveal the units of measurement, often in milliliters. They usually have a spout at the top so you can easily pour out the liquid you just measured.
Your lab will also contain scientific tools for conducting experiments. Although you need to be careful when using a Bunsen burner, I think it is one of the most interesting lab tools to use. A Bunsen burner is a heat source used to raise the temperature of a substance. It uses an open flame, which is why you need to operate it with care. It was named after Robert Bunsen, who was a scientist who first started using the heating device. Bunsen burners are a great way to heat up liquids used in experiments.
To hold the liquids, you can use different types of glassware. If your sample is small, you could use a test tube, which is a finger-like tube with a U-shaped bottom. If you have more liquid, you could use a beaker, which is a wide-mouthed container with a flat bottom, or a flask, which is a narrow-mouthed container with a flat bottom. The different shapes and sizes of glassware found in a science lab help scientists heat, store and mix liquids and chemicals.
Another tool you might use in your science lab is called a petri dish. A petri dish is a clear, shallow dish used to grow mold or bacteria. This can be used for some interesting science experiments. For instance, laboratory petri dishes typically contain a gel-like substance that bacteria feed on called agar. As bacteria feed on the agar they multiply so much that the mass of bacteria becomes visible. Did you ever wonder if any organisms were living on your desk or on the classroom doorknob? Well, using a petri dish and a cotton swap you can find out. Simply wipe a cotton swap over any surface, then wipe it on the agar and wait for the little critters to grow.
One of the main ways scientists learn is through observation. One of the most useful scientific tools for making observations is a microscope, which is a tool used to see very small objects. The microscope you use in your science lab is called a compound microscope. This allows you to see cells and other tiny organisms in two dimensions, or 2-D, which is good enough for many school experiments. Some microscopes let you view things in 3-D. An example is a scanning electron microscope. With this advanced microscope, the object is scanned by a beam of electrons that reflect back to form an image.
Microscopes are not the only tools scientists use to observe the living world around them. In fact, we see scientific tools of observation in all branches of the life sciences. For example, observations of the human body can be made using tools, like a Magnetic Resonance Imaging scanner, or MRI scanner, which is a tool used in the medical profession to visualize organs and tissues inside the body.
Let's review. In this lesson, we learned that scientific tools help scientists take precise measurements, carry out experiments and make observations.
Scientific tools for measuring include a stopwatch to measure time, a scale to measure weight, a measuring tape to measure length or distance and a thermometer to measure temperature. We also learned about a tool called a graduated cylinder that is used to accurately measure volume of a liquid.
Scientific tools for conducting experiments include a Bunsen burner, which is a heat source used to raise the temperature of a substance. It is often used with different types of glassware, such as a test tube, a beaker or a flask. Another tool you might use in your science experiment is a petri dish. A petri dish is a clear, shallow dish used to grow mold or bacteria.
Scientific tools for making observations include a microscope, which is a tool used to see very small objects. In your science lab you use a compound microscope to see cells in 2-D, but a scientist can use a scanning electron microscope to view tiny objects in 3-D. We also discussed how a Magnetic Resonance Imaging scanner, or MRI scanner, is a tool used in the medical profession to visualize organs and tissues inside the body.
After this lesson is finished you should be able to name and recall the purposes of different scientific tools used for measurement, experiments and observation.