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

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

And have you considered the researcher who needs countless 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.

And then there’s the scientist who wants a beaker made of something as inert as you can. Behold Teflon, a polymer that reacts with only a few substances.

These are generally just a few of the rapidly expanding choices offered in glassware and plasticware for scientific labs. Glass is 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 future.

The oldest known glass objects are beads from Egypt that had been made around 2600 B.C. While no 4,000-year-old beakers are saved to record, today’s items of laboratory glassware, with care and attention, could become museum pieces–or maybe even still be used–around 2600 A.D.

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

Reusable glassware hasn’t changed much over the years, according to Andrew LaGrotte, group marketing manager at Schott America Glass & Scientific Products Inc. of Yonkers, N.Y. “Whoever invented the basic shapes had some foresight, because these shapes remain used today,” he says. Scientists generally choose their labware as outlined by specific applications and private preference. “The very basic vessel found in the laboratory today, the beaker, can be purchased in a wide range of materials,” says John Babashak of Wheaton Scientific, operating out of Millville, N.J. Chemists can pick beakers manufactured from a borosilicate glass including Pyrex, plastic, or even platinum, based on the quantity of heat and chemical resistance needed. Even beakers made from paper can be found, for paint chemists.

But overall, scientists’ desire for Pipette is reduced with the development 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] things like tubes, beakers, Erlenmeyer flasks, and pipettes.”

An evident drawback to glass in comparison to plastic is its tendency to interrupt. “Individuals are careful during use never to break glass, simply because this might expose those to a hazardous situation, for example toxic agents, carcinogens, radioactive or biological hazards,” says Nicoll. This care will not necessarily extend to many other 36dexnpky of labwork, however. “By and far, the glass washing and preparation areas break one of the most glass,” he notes.

Though it isn’t a perfect strategy to the situation of breakage, many of the smaller specialty companies do offer glass repair. An expensive component of ammeter –an automated buret, for instance–can be repaired for approximately half the fee for 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 as good, but they’re as functional as whenever they were new.”

Despite the possibility of breakage, glass has several positive aspects 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 generally held in glass containers. Additionally, glass is far 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 used normally.