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Beakers and bottles, dispensers and droppers, pipettes and Laboratory glassware. Labware similar to this was previously available in a single material–glass. A glass beaker may last indefinitely, so long as it isn’t dropped or heated too quickly or filled up with certain highly reactive chemicals.

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

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

And after that there’s the scientist who wants a beaker made from something as inert as possible. Behold Teflon, a polymer that reacts with not many substances.

These are just a few of the rapidly expanding choices obtainable in glassware and plasticware for scientific labs. Glass is actually a few millennia more than plastic, but both materials have distinct advantages. And also as advances in glass and plastic technology continue, neither material seems in danger of becoming obsolete anytime soon.

The oldest known glass objects are beads from Egypt which were made around 2600 B.C. While no 4,000-year-old beakers are on record, today’s items of laboratory glassware, with care, could become museum pieces–or perhaps even be utilized–in the year 2600 A.D.

In recent history, new plastics have pushed their way into the formerly glass-dominated domain of labware. In addition, automation has reduced the role of glassware in lots of labs. However the glass industry has responded to showcase changes and it is not willing to be pushed out from the lab for good.

Reusable glassware hasn’t changed much through the years, 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, because they shapes are still used today,” he says. Scientists generally choose their labware based on specific applications and private preference. “The very basic vessel employed in the laboratory today, the beaker, can be found in a wide array of materials,” says John Babashak of Wheaton Scientific, operating out of Millville, N.J. Chemists can choose beakers created from a borosilicate glass such as Pyrex, plastic, or even platinum, based on the amount of heat and chemical resistance needed. Even beakers made of paper are offered, for paint chemists.

But overall, scientists’ need for Pipette continues to be reduced with the roll-out of unbreakable or single- use disposable plastic items, says Douglas Nicoll, vice president for technical services at Bellco Glass Inc. of Vineland, N.J. “This is also true with commodity [standard] items like tubes, beakers, Erlenmeyer flasks, and pipettes.”

An obvious disadvantage of glass when compared to plastic is its tendency to interrupt. “Individuals are careful during use never to break glass, because this might expose these to a hazardous situation, like toxic agents, carcinogens, radioactive or biological hazards,” says Nicoll. This care fails to 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.

Though it isn’t an ideal strategy to the situation of breakage, most of the smaller specialty companies do offer glass repair. A costly bit of ammeter –an automatic buret, as an example–may be repaired for around half the price of a replacement, says Bob Cheatley, president of Cal-Glass for Research Inc., a Costa Mesa, Calif.-based company that does repairs included in its specialty glass business. “[Repaired items] don’t look nearly as good, but they’re as functional as after they were new.”

Despite the danger of breakage, glass has several positive aspects over plastic. Solvents, by way of example, can dissolve some plastics, explains Nicoll. Some plastics are gas-permeable, so materials that could oxidize or experience a pH change tend to be saved in glass containers. Furthermore, glass is a lot more easily sterilized than most plastics, says Frank Nunziata, sales manager for Pequannock, N.J.’s Bel-Art Products; so where there’s a sterility requirement, glass is commonly used most regularly.