Working with Chemicals & Specimens Safely

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  • 0:01 Lab Safety
  • 0:59 Working with Chemicals
  • 2:56 Working with Specimens
  • 5:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Working with chemicals and specimens can be really exciting! But, it's also important to understand how to use, store, and dispose of them properly. This lesson provides a brief overview of this topic.

Lab Safety

Scientists have a pretty sweet gig. We get to do all kinds of fun things like explore the oceans, trudge through the woods, and work in labs. But with this great fun comes great responsibility. The work and research that scientists get to do are only fun when they're safe, as well. Being safety conscious is important in any setting but especially when working with chemicals and specimens in the lab.

Generally speaking, lab safety involves the proper use, storage, and disposal of any chemicals and specimens that you may be working with. Chemicals are incredibly useful in lab work and will probably be something that you use on a regular basis. Biological specimens are also common in labs. These are any biological tissues, fluids, or organisms, and they are very useful because they allow us to learn first-hand about anatomy, physiology, bio-chemical processes, diseases, and more. Handling both chemicals and specimens properly is a big part of lab safety, so let's take a look at how to do this.

Working with Chemicals

I know you're probably really excited to get started working in your lab, but I promise that your experiences will be much more enjoyable if you take the time to understand and practice some basic safety measures first. For example, think about a very simple chemical reaction that seems pretty harmless: mixing baking soda and vinegar. When combined, these two substances react to create a large amount of foam that may even overflow out of the container. This reaction is pretty safe as long as the foam has somewhere to go. But if you perform this chemical reaction in a closed container, the pressure inside could build up enough that the container explodes, which is a dangerous situation.

Can you see how under the right circumstances any chemical reaction can quickly get out of hand? This is why proper handling of your chemicals is so important. You need to be fully aware of how your chemicals will react when mixed, how much you need to mix, what kind of containers to mix them in, and how those chemicals will react to things like light, heat, cold, water, and air. The safest thing is to always assume the worst with any chemical and treat it as a dangerous substance. Being overly cautious will prevent spills, accidents, explosions, or worse. Plus, the more careful you are, the more certain you can be of your results!

Safely managing your chemicals includes not just hands-on use, but also their storage and disposal, as well as the personal protective equipment you may need to wear. For example, some chemicals need to be stored in the refrigerator, while others you want to make sure you DON'T store in the cold. Some chemicals need to be stored where they are not exposed to light, while others need to be stored in certain materials like glass or plastic.

How you dispose of your chemicals will also be specific to each substance. Some can go down the drain, while others need to be deactivated or decontaminated before you can throw them away. And when you're handling your chemicals, make sure you wear the proper protective gear. Safety goggles, gloves, aprons, and even full protective suits may be required if the chemicals can harm your skin, eyes, or other parts of your body.

Working with Specimens

Lab specimens are different than chemicals but need to be approached with the same precautions and respect. No matter what you're using them for, to ensure the safety of you and others working in the lab, you also need to know how to handle, store, and dispose of your specimens properly.

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