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Lab Tips in Chemistry Basics

No matter how explosive a YouTube video, doing an experiment with your own hands is just more impressive. That being said, we want to make sure that everyone still has hands, eyes, and feet, etc., following the experiment. Whenever setting-up, performing, or cleaning up an experiment think: safety.

Graduated cylinders, with various colored liquid solutions, are shown. Image from here.

6 Rules for Safety
The first basic, and most crucial, lab safety tip:

1. Follow directions carefully.
This means...

  • Read (and re-read) the directions carefully before starting.

  • Don't modify the procedure or substitute materials. For a silly illustration of what happens when you make stuff up as you go, watch Mr. Bean attempt a chemistry lab.

  • When in doubt about a procedure, ask the teacher before starting.

Some other helpful tips to follow when performing labs:

2. Protect your eyeballs. Since we only have two, we would like to keep both of them. Wear safety goggles at all times. That means, wear your goggles when setting up the experiment, performing the experiment, and cleaning up the experiment. Removing the goggles to sleep is advisable. (Just checking to make sure you are reading this.) Many chemicals are caustic and can cause serious eye trauma. Goggles should be on during all labs.

Note: For contact-wearers of the world, some chemicals may react with contact lenses and cause eye irritation. Always wear glasses, not contact lenses, during chemistry labs. However, glasses are not a substitute for safety goggles. Wear safety goggles over your glasses.

3. Protect your toes. While it is true that humans do have many more toes than eyeballs, we will again assume that everyone wants to walk away with all ten. The solution is simple. Always wear close-toed shoes. We know flip-flops are oh so comfy, but save them for the beach.

4. Keep hair out of the way. If you have luscious locks long enough to be pulled back into a ponytail, please do so for labs. This rule is particularly pertinent during any experiment involving an open flame. We don't think it takes much imagination to understand what may happen during a lab involving fire.

Chemistry labs often involve open flames. Loose hair is a fashion faux pas in chemistry labs. For one, burning hair does not smell good. Secondly, burning hair can lead to severe skin burns. Please tie hair back.

Note: If the lab does not include a fire component, it is still important to tie hair back. It's not unheard of for students to accidently dip their hair into the chemicals with which they are working.

5. Make sure all equipment is in working order. This not only means that the equipment works, but that you know how to use it properly. For example, everyone will want to be comfortable both lighting a Bunsen burner as well as turning it off before using one in a procedure.

Also, always check glassware for cracks before using. If any glassware contains a crack, discard it. Cracks are dangerous because they can cause a piece of glassware to spontaneously break during an experiment. This is not the type of ka-boom we are going for. Trust us.

6. Don't consume chemicals. Sure, taste is one of the great senses with which humanity was endowed. However, it is not one that we will be using, ever, in chemistry lab.

On that note, the sense of smell is helpful in lab. For example, it may help detect burning hair. However, in order to preserve our sense of smell, we will practice wafting. Chemists never bring a substance close to their noses to smell. Instead, they gently move the air above the substance towards their nose and breathe in slowly lest the substance have a foul smell or be toxic. Watch a stylishly safe scientist practicing the technique.

We are now done going over the most basic, and important, safety rules for chemistry labs. More specific safety guidelines will depend on the chemicals we are working with and the procedure. You are well on your way to enlightenment. Well, maybe we exaggerate, but you are on your way to performing safe chemistry labs.

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