Do's and don'ts in the science lab

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Do's and don'ts in the science lab
Whether you're a student or a professional, proper lab procedure is essential. (Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

Laboratory work is a vital part of the search for new discoveries in biology, chemistry, physics and other science fields. Each type of research has its own protocols, designed to keep lab users safe and produce the best possible results. However, there are a few basic precautions that apply to all types of lab work.

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Lab procedures

Do familiarise yourself with the procedures of the lab you're working in. Every lab will have its own safety procedures. These will contain information including what to do in the event of an emergency and how to correctly operate the lab's equipment. In some labs, each separate piece of equipment will have its own set of instructions. Failing to follow lab procedures can mean having to repeat an experiment at best, causing a dangerous accident at worst.

Protective equipment

Do wear appropriate protective equipment. Different labs will require different equipment, depending on the hazards involved. Protective equipment can range from lab coats and safety glasses to latex gloves, respirators and specialist eye protection. Protective equipment for handling biohazardous or radioactive material can involve protective suits that cover the whole body or mechanical manipulator arms. For most lab users, however, lab coats and safety glasses are the norm.

Cleanliness

Don't leave a mess in your workspace. This basic rule is particularly important in environments where multiple users are sharing the same lab area. A cluttered lab runs the risk of contaminating experiments, especially in fields such as microbiology which deal with extremely sensitive media. Unexpected obstacles in the lab area can also increase the risk of spills and other accidents. In some cases, objects left in the lab area can pick up dangerous contaminants which may be transferred to their owners later.

Keeping notes

Don't work without a record. Every step of every experiment should be documented in a lab notebook or otherwise recorded. Careful record-keeping makes it easier to replicate experiments or identify errors if any should occur. If multiple people are working on the same project, good record-keeping makes coordinating their efforts easier. After an experiment is no time to be recording vital information; key data points can easily slip an experimenter's mind, causing unnecessary loss of time.

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