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Beakers and bottles, dispensers and droppers, pipettes and Centrifuge. Labware such as this was previously available in just one material–glass. A glass beaker may last indefinitely, so long as it isn’t dropped or heated too quickly or full of certain highly reactive chemicals.

But what happens if a chemist must boil some chemical brew? Enter Pyrex, a borosilicate glass that can be extracted from hot to cold extremes without having to break.

And what about the researcher who needs numerous small vials, and doesn’t want to spend the time or money to clean them between uses? Enter plastic–a material both cheap and disposable.

Then there’s the scientist who demands a beaker made of something as inert as you can. Behold Teflon, a polymer that reacts with very few substances.

These are just a few of the rapidly expanding choices available in glassware and plasticware for scientific labs. Glass is really a few millennia more than plastic, but both materials have distinct advantages. So that as advances in glass and plastic technology continue, neither material seems in danger of becoming obsolete in the near future.

The oldest known glass objects are beads from Egypt that have been made around 2600 B.C. While no 4,000-year-old beakers are stored on record, today’s pieces of laboratory glassware, with proper care, could become museum pieces–or maybe even be utilized–during 2600 A.D.

In recent history, new plastics have pushed their distance to the formerly glass-dominated domain of labware. Additionally, automation has reduced the role of glassware in several labs. However the glass industry has responded to market changes which is not willing to be pushed from the lab permanently.

Reusable glassware hasn’t changed much over time, as outlined by Andrew LaGrotte, group marketing manager at Schott America Glass & Scientific Products Inc. of Yonkers, N.Y. “Whoever invented the standard shapes had some foresight, as these shapes continue to be used today,” he says. Scientists generally choose their labware according to specific applications and private preference. “The particular basic vessel used in the laboratory today, the beaker, comes in a variety of materials,” says John Babashak of Wheaton Scientific, situated in Millville, N.J. Chemists can select beakers manufactured from a borosilicate glass such as Pyrex, plastic, as well as platinum, according to the quantity of heat and chemical resistance needed. Even beakers created from paper can be found, for paint chemists.

But overall, scientists’ need for Pipette tip has become reduced with the introduction of unbreakable or single- use disposable plastic items, says Douglas Nicoll, v . p . for technical services at Bellco Glass Inc. of Vineland, N.J. “This is also true with commodity [standard] stuff like tubes, beakers, Erlenmeyer flasks, and pipettes.”

An evident drawback to glass in comparison with plastic is its tendency to destroy. “Everyone is careful during use to never break glass, since this might expose those to a hazardous situation, including toxic agents, carcinogens, radioactive or biological hazards,” says Nicoll. This care does not necessarily extend to many other 36dexnpky of labwork, however. “By and far, the glass washing and preparation areas break by far the most glass,” he notes.

While it isn’t a great strategy to the issue of breakage, most of the smaller specialty companies offer glass repair. An expensive part of Skeleton model –a computerized buret, by way of example–might be repaired for roughly half the price of a new one, says Bob Cheatley, president of Cal-Glass for Research Inc., a Costa Mesa, Calif.-based company that does repairs as an element of its specialty glass business. “[Repaired items] don’t look nearly as good, but they’re as functional as after they were new.”

Despite the possibility of breakage, glass has several positive aspects over plastic. Solvents, for instance, can dissolve some plastics, explains Nicoll. Some plastics are gas-permeable, so materials that may oxidize or experience a pH change are generally stored in glass containers. In addition, glass is a lot more easily sterilized than most plastics, says Frank Nunziata, sales manager for Pequannock, N.J.’s Bel-Art Products; so how there’s a sterility requirement, glass is commonly used normally.