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Beakers and bottles, dispensers and droppers, pipettes and Crucible. Labware similar to this had been available within a material–glass. A glass beaker may last indefinitely, so long as it isn’t dropped or heated too fast or loaded with certain highly reactive chemicals.

But what if a chemist has to boil some chemical brew? Enter Pyrex, a borosilicate glass that could be obtained from hot to cold extremes without breaking.

And have you thought about the researcher who needs hundreds of small vials, and doesn’t desire to spend the time or money to clean them between uses? Enter plastic–a material both cheap and disposable.

After which there’s the scientist who needs a beaker created from something as inert as you possibly can. Behold Teflon, a polymer that reacts with only a few substances.

These are generally just some of the rapidly expanding choices for sale in glassware and plasticware for scientific labs. Glass can be a few millennia over the age of plastic, but both materials have distinct advantages. So when advances in glass and plastic technology continue, neither material seems at risk of becoming obsolete anytime soon.

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 on record, today’s bits of laboratory glassware, with care and attention, could become museum pieces–or simply even be in use–during 2600 A.D.

In recent history, new plastics have pushed their distance to the formerly glass-dominated domain of labware. Furthermore, automation has reduced the role of glassware in numerous labs. However the glass industry has responded to market changes and is not prepared to be pushed out from the lab once and for all.

Reusable glassware hasn’t changed much throughout the years, 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 they shapes are still used today,” he says. Scientists generally choose their labware based on specific applications and personal preference. “The really basic vessel utilized in the laboratory today, the beaker, comes in an array of materials,” says John Babashak of Wheaton Scientific, operating out of Millville, N.J. Chemists can choose beakers made from a borosilicate glass like Pyrex, plastic, or even platinum, according to the amount of heat and chemical resistance needed. Even beakers made of 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 especially true with commodity [standard] stuff like tubes, beakers, Erlenmeyer flasks, and pipettes.”

A clear drawback to glass when compared with plastic is its tendency to interrupt. “Everyone is careful during use to never break glass, as this might expose those to a hazardous situation, including 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 one of the most glass,” he notes.

Although it isn’t a perfect answer to the situation of breakage, a lot of the smaller specialty companies offer glass repair. An expensive bit of Skeleton model –an automated buret, by way of example–may be repaired for approximately half the cost of a replacement, says Bob Cheatley, president of Cal-Glass for Research Inc., a Costa Mesa, Calif.-based company that does repairs as part of its specialty glass business. “[Repaired items] don’t look nearly as good, but they’re as functional as whenever they were new.”

Despite the danger of breakage, glass has several positive aspects over plastic. Solvents, as an example, can dissolve some plastics, explains Nicoll. Some plastics are gas-permeable, so materials which could oxidize or experience a pH change tend to be stored in glass containers. Additionally, glass is 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 commonly used most often.