Jacks of Science has a blog post entitled Pimp my Hypothetical Home Laboratory. It’s got a pretty good listing of things a home lab could / should have, and if you got everything on the list, it would be a very nice lab indeed.
My own lab is a work in progress, but so far I’ve spend less than $800 on it. I have:
- Glassware / Standard Chemical tools
- Bunsen Burner
- Standard Chemical Set
- Compound Microscope
- Dissection Kit
I still need to purchase a few things, like a digital scale for example, and a digital thermometer would be nice as well.
You don’t need to purchase everything at once. I started out getting a top-of-the-line chemistry set from my local science store, and that included all of the glassware, tools, and chemicals that I needed to really get started. Then a few months later, I added a compound microscope and the dissection kit. Building as I go has worked pretty well for me, and it’s something I would recommend for other amateur scientists out there.
Of course, if you do have the $5600 totaled from Jacks’ post, that’s a good place to start as well.
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While it is nice to have good equipment to explore the world with, they are not necessarily the most important factor, and in some cases, not necessary at all. I’ve discovered the most important thing to have is a quiet, controlled operating environment. You need a place to work free from distractions. While it is safer to work outdoors for some experiments, wind and temperature can cause many problems running experiments. It is better to work indoors, where there are controls for temperature especially.
I discovered the importance of having a controlled environment the hard way. I had put together a few experiments for my extended family over the holidays, and because of safety concerns, I conducted the experiments outdoors. While I’m normally a very careful experimenter, my equipment soon became spread out, and two of the three experiments failed due to the weather (bitter cold). While the experiment that did work was spectacular, I ended up wasting precious chemicals, including half of my sodium acetate when I had taken great care in synthesizing for my needs.
That said, there are some experiments that need to be conducted outdoors. If you’re dealing with strong acids or bases, and the obvious case of explosive or flammable materials, wait until the weather is clear, with a moderate temperature, and little to no wind. When it comes to experiments that will create a lot of smoke, or loud explosions, try to be as far away from other people, or make them aware of what you are doing. It’s of the utmost importance that you conduct yourself professionally or you risk trouble not only with the neighbors, but with the law as well.
Above all others, a controlled environment helps to insure safety, and that really is the most important thing to remember.
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