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Beakers and bottles, dispensers and droppers, pipettes and Centrifuge. Labware such as this used to be available within a material–glass. A glass beaker may last indefinitely, as long as it isn’t dropped or heated too fast or filled with certain highly reactive chemicals.

But can you imagine if a chemist must boil some chemical brew? Enter Pyrex, a borosilicate glass that may be taken from hot to cold extremes without breaking.

And have you considered the researcher who needs hundreds of small vials, and doesn’t wish to take the time or money to wash them between uses? Enter plastic–a material both cheap and disposable.

Then there’s the scientist who demands a beaker made from something as inert as is possible. Behold Teflon, a polymer that reacts with hardly any substances.

They are just some of the rapidly expanding choices obtainable in glassware and plasticware for scientific labs. Glass is really a few millennia older than plastic, but both materials have distinct advantages. And as advances in glass and plastic technology continue, neither material seems at risk of becoming obsolete in the future.

The oldest known glass objects are beads from Egypt that were made around 2600 B.C. While no 4,000-year-old beakers are saved to record, today’s items of laboratory glassware, with good care, could become museum pieces–or maybe even still be utilized–during 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 promote changes and is also not prepared to be pushed out of your lab for good.

Reusable glassware hasn’t changed much over time, based on Andrew LaGrotte, group marketing manager at Schott America Glass & Scientific Products Inc. of Yonkers, N.Y. “Whoever invented the essential shapes had some foresight, because these shapes will still be used today,” he says. Scientists generally choose their labware in accordance with specific applications and private preference. “The basic vessel used in the laboratory today, the beaker, can be purchased in a variety of materials,” says John Babashak of Wheaton Scientific, located in Millville, N.J. Chemists can decide beakers made of a borosilicate glass like Pyrex, plastic, or perhaps platinum, according to the volume of heat and chemical resistance needed. Even beakers made of paper are available, for paint chemists.

But overall, scientists’ necessity 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 especially true with commodity [standard] stuff like tubes, beakers, Erlenmeyer flasks, and pipettes.”

An obvious drawback to glass when compared with plastic is its tendency to destroy. “Folks are careful during use never to break glass, because this might expose these to a hazardous situation, for example toxic agents, carcinogens, radioactive or biological hazards,” says Nicoll. This care will not necessarily extend for some 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 answer to the issue of breakage, many of the smaller specialty companies do offer glass repair. A high priced part of filter paper –a computerized buret, for instance–could 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 included in its specialty glass business. “[Repaired items] don’t look pretty much as good, but they’re as functional as after they were new.”

Despite the possibility of breakage, glass has several advantages over plastic. Solvents, for example, can dissolve some plastics, explains Nicoll. Some plastics are gas-permeable, so materials that could oxidize or experience a pH change are usually stored in glass containers. Moreover, glass is far more easily sterilized than most plastics, says Frank Nunziata, sales manager for Pequannock, N.J.’s Bel-Art Products; where there’s a sterility requirement, glass is used most regularly.