Buy Equipment for Your Lab Chemistry Online!
Most chemistry sets sold online today are what I would call “starter chemistry sets.” They are the beginnings of building a really first-rate home chemistry laboratory, but are far from complete. So how do you buy lab equipment and chemicals that allow you to do fun and interesting experiments at home?
First, I recommend a dedicated workspace. The kitchen or dining room tables are a bad place to set up your chemistry set. First, you have constantly have to put it away when your family wants to use the kitchen or dining room. That’s OK when all you have is the original chemistry set that came in a box or case. But when you expand your chemistry lab buy buying more lab equipment online, it won’t fit in the box.
Much more desirable is to leave it out on a workbench or table away from living areas and specially food areas. For instance, my basement now has a big wooden work table. It’s meant for tools, but since I prefer science to do-it-yourself handyman projects, for me it’s an ideal lab table.
It never occurs to many young chemistry hobbyists or their parents to buy a small fire extinguisher and have it within easy read. But it’s a good idea for the obvious reason that flames are used in experiments to heat chemicals, and also that some exothermic chemical reactions generate spark or flames. You can get a fire extinguisher at your local Home Depot or buy it from them online here:
Start with the biggest home chemistry set you can afford. One of the better sets is the Abeka Chemistry Supply Kit #AB-KIT11:
Unlike most smaller sets, the Abeka Kit comes with a portable micro lab burner which is the heat source, a ring stand, and a test tube clamp. You attach one end of the clamp to the vertical metal ring stand rod, the test tube goes in the clamp, and the burner underneath to create endothermic chemical reactions, which are those requiring heat.
The Kit includes both a vinyl lab apron and more importantly safety goggles. You should always wear safety goggles when using chemicals. Lab gloves aren’t a bad idea, either.
A burette is a useful piece of glassware you can buy online that almost no chemistry set comes equipped with. You hold the burette in a ring stand, fill it with the liquid chemical you want to use, and dispense the liquid by turning a glass valve at the bottom. Before use, grease the glass valve with Vaseline®; otherwise, the chemicals may cause the glass-on-glass contact to become stuck, making you unable to return the valve and ruining both your experiment and the burette.
The manufacturer says the Kit is aimed at amateur chemists ages 10 to 12, which is around the age when I had my first Gilbert chemistry set. However, the Abeka Kit includes a couple of harmful chemicals I am not sure a 10-year old should play around with, most notably sulfuric acid and hydrochloric acid.
It has an ample assortment of beakers, flasks, and graduated cylinders. There are zinc and copper electrodes for fun electrochemistry experiments plus the usual supply of test tubes, rubber stoppers, and a test tube rack.
For quantitative and not just qualitative experiments, meaning you are measuring the amount of chemicals consumed in a chemical reaction, you need something to weigh the chemicals you are using which most sets including this one do not include. You can buy either a triple balance beam or a digital scape. I prefer the digital scales which are just easier to use.
Most amateur chemists, me included, expand their sets by buying glassware and other apparatus at professional laboratory equipment supply houses. As a kid I would visit the nearest and pick out what I wanted, but today you can get everything online; one good source for buying lab equipment online is the Lab Depot:
One piece of glassware you will want to own is a condenser or distillation kit. Distillation is the process used to separate crude oil into its components including heating oil, jet fuel, gasoline, and so on.
The same principle used in a giant refinery column is replicated with chemical mixtures in your tabletop distillation unit. You heat a chemical mixture. It comes a gas and flows into an inner tube inside a condenser. Cold water is run through the condenser. The components with lower boiling points return to the liquid phrase and are collected while those with higher boiling points are vented to the atmosphere.
Distillation units separate chemical components by temperature. Another piece of laboratory equipment, a centrifuge, separates chemical components in a mixture by density. You place the mixture in a test tube, insert the tube into the centrifuge, and switch it on. The device spins the tubes at high speed. The centrifugal force causes the dense materials to collect at the bottom of the tube.
Many chemistry sets come with pH paper, which when dipped into a liquid chemical or mixture tells you whether and how strong an acid or base it is. Another process, chromatography, helps identify the components within a chemical solution or mixture. A professional high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) system can cost thousands of dollars. Most amateur chemists use inexpensive chromatography paper for inexpensively separating colored chemicals or substances.
A large number of sets on the market today are “microchem” sets. The centerpiece of a microchem set is the reaction tray. These are glass trays with small wells in them. Instead of mixing large amounts of chemicals in a beaker or flask, you use a pipette and small measuring spoon to add small amounts of chemicals to the wells.
The advantage of microchemistry is that it consumes less chemicals and the reactions may take place faster. But to me, the fun is viewing the chemical changes in a beaker, flask, or graduated cylinder. You will decide which is most enjoyable for you.
When you take chemistry in college, there are hoods over the lab benches you can use to suck up and vent gases created by your chemical experiments if necessary. Most home chemistry sets don’t generate dangerous fumes in large quantities. However, you should resist the urge to stand too close and sniff any gases generated. An open window or a small, low-speed desktop fan can keep noxious fumes away from you.
It should go without saying, but it’s foolish to ingest or even taste your experiments. Many pioneering chemistry in the 18th century got sick and died young because they tasted their experimental results too much and too often. Today there are books of science experiments you can eat, and I would guess they are all safe, but cannot vouch for them personally.
There are many sources that teach how to do chemistry experiments using household items you find around the kitchen. This can be fun and inexpensive and you can do some interesting experiments using kitchen items. However, any items you take from the kitchen should probably be kept as a permanent part of your home chemistry lab and not returned for kitchen use. There may be residue of chemicals you cannot see even if you have washed a measuring cup or a jar.
A nice piece of high-end equipment to own is a spectrophotometer. Spectrophotometry is a method of identifying chemicals in a solution. It works by measuring how much light a chemical absorbs light by measuring the intensity as a beam of light passes through sample solution. The basic principle is that each compound absorbs or transmits light over a certain range of wavelengths, each of which emits characteristic bands of color.
While a new spectrophotometer can run over a thousand dollars, you may be able to pick up a used one for a few hundred bucks:
While your chemistry set most likely came with a manual of experiments, you may want to try other experiments not in the set’s book. Fortunately, you can buy many books of chemistry experiments online at Amazon for hobbyists of all ages, from youngsters to adult experiments.
Janice VanCleave’s Chemistry for Every Kid: 101 Easy Experiments That Really Work is from popular science author Janice VanCleave. It focuses on simple but engaging experiments from why you can’t mix oil and water to making colors disappear with bleach. There are very few chemistry experiment books for adults, but lots of the experiment books aimed at the junior high and high school levels have experiments that are both challenging and fun.
Lots of kids and adults too who enjoy experimenting with chemistry sets and need to buy laboratory equipment online have interests that spill over into other sciences, especially biology. The main equipment needed for biology experiments is a good dissection kit. They come with the scalpels and other instruments you need and may also include the body of a frog preserved in formaldehyde:
The most fascinating dissection handbook I ever owned was William Berman’s “How to Dissect.” It had some outrageous experiment. One was dissecting the heart of a live frog (under anesthetic, of course) and keeping it beating with a drip of Ringer’s solution. Another was using a centrifuge to extract growth hormone from dead grasshoppers and then applying the solution to the bodies of live grasshoppers which incredibly would cause them to grow larger than normal. So you could say his experiments combined both biology and chemistry.