Looking to start your own chemistry lab? It can be an incredibly fulfilling experience, even though it’s a ton of work.
You’ll not only learn tons about chemistry and the subject matter you’ll be researching. You’ll also learn other valuable skills related to management, leadership, entrepreneurship, and much more.
There’s a lot that goes into starting and running a lab. You need to have an effective workspace, lots of high-quality equipment, and plenty of time to devote to your research lab.
If you have all that and are looking to outfit your lab and get to work, then keep reading our guide to starting, running, and succeeding in your new lab.
What Is the Lab’s Purpose?
First off, it’s important to define what the purpose of the lab is.
Is it going to be a personal lab, built in your home, garage, or out in the shed? Do you just want to have it available for personal experimentation or product development?
Or do you work for a school district? If so, you might be looking to add a proper chemistry department or to revamp the school’s current lackluster labs.
Or are you more entrepreneurial? Plenty of companies have started as a result of findings in a research lab. Whether it’s working in the healthcare industry, food industry, manufacturing industry, or almost any other industry, basic chemistry is a huge component.
You might even be working for an existing company that is currently sourcing products from other vendors. Maybe your company wants to develop your own products in order to increase profit margins.
Whatever the case, you need to clearly state your goals for the lab. What is it for, who is going to be working in it, and what is the ultimate success? If you can answer those questions, the rest will fall into place as you put your hand to the plow.
What Type of Research Will You Be Doing?
Once you know your goal, it’s important to plan ahead at what type of research you will be focusing on. This will help you decide what type of equipment and tools you are going to need, and what stuff you won’t.
If you are going to focus on research involving food, plants, animals, or humans, your probably going to need coolers and freezers to store specimens being study.
If you are studying things related to healthcare, medicine, or bacteria, you’re going to focus your budget on high-quality microscopes and similar technology.
If it’s a personal lab, what are the things you want to test or create? If you are focusing on your body, you might opt to create health, wellness, and strength products. If so, you’ll probably want to buy SARMs and other natural substances to test and experiment with.
A brand new lab is unlikely to have the budget to buy anything and everything. Therefore, it’s important to foresee what you’re going to need and start small, expanding when needed.
Who Is Funding Your Lab and Its Work?
Speaking of budget, who is going to be funding your research? Unless it’s a personal lab at your home, it’s going to cost a lot of money.
You’ll need a modernized space, which can be as small as a one-room classroom, or it can be an entire industrial facility. Labs require lots of prep work before adding equipment.
This involves plumbing, electricity, and gas lines. And much of the equipment you’re going to need will require professional installation, such as workstations, desks, coolers, shelving, and so forth.
It takes a hefty budget to construct a lab. If you have funding from a school district or a commercial contract, then you are in luck. If you don’t already have funding in place, you’ll need to start there.
Working for a private school or local community-based organization? You’re probably going to have luck with private donors and grants.
If you are looking to start a company to accompany your lab, you’ll either need to secure business financing or find investors who believe in your work. Sure, securing funding isn’t the fun part, but it’s necessary if you want to advance to the next steps.
Understanding Safety Requirements for a Chemistry Lab
As you move forward with constructing your lab, it’s important to prioritize safety right from the very beginning. Labs can be dangerous, toxic places if precautions aren’t taken.
However, they can also be safe, healthy places to work and research if you follow best safety practices. So what are the best safety practices for chemistry labs?
1. Personal Protective Equipment
First and foremost, everyone who enters your lab needs to wear PPE or personal protective equipment. If they don’t they are at risk of injury, or at best, torn or stained clothing.
Safety goggles are essential at all times. You never know when glass is going to shatter or chemicals are going to splatter. Eyes always need protection, even when performing experiments with little or no concern.
You get a bonus for having entire face shields stocked in your lab. A face shield will protect the entire face from any airborne attackers.
Always wear lab coats over personal clothing. Thick lab coats protect your skin and clothing from burns, stains, or holes due to hazardous chemicals.
And wear gloves at all times. The type of glove worn will depend on the current experiment. Sometimes, simple latex gloves will suffice, though they don’t offer much chemical protection.
Nitrile gloves are very similar and affordable but offer greater chemical resistance. Wear neoprene gloves when working with acidic compounds, as they provide optimal resistance. Plus, they offer a great grip.
Wear butyl gloves when working with various gases. While gas can permeate other types of gloves with ease, the butyl won’t let it through.
2. Fume Hood
When working with any type of research chemicals or novel compounds, a fume hood is a must for your lab. As chemicals are opened up, the fumes begin to fill the air.
Without a fume hood, harmful vapors would get strong enough to cause ill effects on your lab teams, such as headaches, nausea, or blackouts. But with a chemical fume hood in place, it will draw the fumes and vapors in and remove them from the lab.
This keeps the air safe and healthy in your lab, even when tons of different chemicals or gases are being used.
3. Eyewashing Station and Safety Showers
You’ll need to have a few plumbed-in pieces of equipment as well. An eye washing station is vital in the event someone gets any type of chemical into their eyes.
Even when wearing goggles, there’s always a possibility of splashing into the eyes. An eye washing station will offer effective flushing until additional help can be reached.
A safety shower is also important in the event that chemicals come into contact with skin. In that event, the affected individual can rush into the safety shower and pull a handle to be drenched with water, effectively saving the skin from unnecessary damage.
4. Signage and Labels
Want to prevent most of your problems before they ever happen? It’s all about safety signage and consistent labeling.
All of your chemicals, solutions, and ingredients should be properly labeled and dated. They should be stored in easy to access containers, not too high off the ground. Keeping them lower would prevent breaks in case they are dropped.
Over labeling your chemicals will help ensure the wrong chemicals aren’t grabbed and used, preventing unwanted chemical reactions. Hazardous signs informing people of flammable, toxic, or delicate glassware are also important.
5. Fire Extinguishers and Fire Blankets
You can’t run a chemistry lab without using flames and heat on a regular basis. Open flames are used to heat test tubes and other vessels.
It’s very easy and common for someone with long hair or loose clothing to ignite without realizing it. When a person’s hair or clothing has caught fire, quickly covering them with a fire blanket will put out the flames.
When something in the lab has caught fire, a fire extinguisher needs to be available to put it out.
6. Lab-Safe Refrigeration
When adding refrigeration to your lab, you don’t just want a normal residential or commercial grade cooler. Lab-safe cooler often utilizes much lower temperatures, which is important for flammable chemicals.
They are also built in a way that doesn’t leave any ignition or wiring exposed, which can be dangerous when storing hazardous chemicals.
Equipment Needed for Effective Research
Labs are filled with all different kinds of equipment, tools, and supplies. It all goes back to the question posed earlier: what is your lab going to be used for?
Every lab has its own focus and goals and, as a result, has specific equipment it needs, but most labs are going to need the same basic supplies.
This includes glassware—lots of glassware. Everything from beakers and test tubes, to siphons, measuring cups, cylinders, flasks, and mixing bowls.
You’ll also need equipment to hold all of these pieces of glass, such as ring stands, test tube clamps, tongs, and racks.
It includes heating equipment such as Bunsen burners and hot plates. You’ll also want thermometers that don’t contain mercury.
You are going to need plenty of small tools and accessories. These include things like pipettes, forceps, burets, scoops, and more.
Other Tips for Starting and Running a Chemistry Lab
There are a few other important tips that will keep you sane as you begin working in your new lab. The sooner you implement these, the easier it will be to keep your lab running smoothly.
Keeping your lab organized is extremely helpful for you as the lab manager. It’s also very helpful for your team or students, as everyone will know where everything is stored and where it all goes when they are done.
On top of that, an organized lab is full of systems and processes, just like any well-run business. These systems and processes need to be available as printed reference materials and easy for all your team members to access.
These can cover everything from how to ignite burners to what type of glassware should be used for certain experiments. Cleaning procedures, inventory tracking procedures, safety procedures, and more all need to be documented.
When you have an entire team completing tasks the same way across the board, you have a well-oiled machine.
No one wants to do it, but it’s an essential function of lab work and research. Keeping your lab clean not only makes for a more productive environment but also lends itself to being safer.
For example, what if a workstation wasn’t properly wiped down after yesterday’s spilled chemical mess? And what if someone else spills another chemical onto the same area, causing a dangerous chemical reaction?
Now you are dealing with a completely avoidable problem that can put people’s safety at risk. Detailed cleaning needs to happen every single day and after each and every experiment or task.
This includes washing and disinfecting all glassware. It means disinfecting work surfaces, tables, chairs, and pieces of equipment used. And it means sweeping and mopping the floor daily.
Depending on your lab, you may have a dedicated cleaning team who is trained to clean a laboratory environment. If not, it’s up to you and your team to build an effective cleaning routine into each day’s schedule.
The Next Big Breakthrough
Starting your own chemistry lab is a huge process. Once it’s built and outfitted, running it is a beast of its own.
It takes a dedicated team to manage an effective and safe lab. Unless it’s a lab built in your garage, it’s too much for one person to handle on their own.
But if you are committed to seeing it through, the educational opportunities available are limitless. Who knows, maybe the next scientific breakthrough will come through your lab.
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