The actual process of doing research is complex. To be successful you need to understand how a research laboratory operates. Different people usually perform different roles in the day-to-day conduct of research. You will also need to know some of the basic skills required in order to conduct meaningful experiments, how to work safely, and how to properly document your experiments and the data you obtain from them.
In this section we will examine some of the basic skills you will need to master in order to be a successful researcher. These skills include the ability to perform bibliographic searches of the primary technical literature on your research topic, the ability to read and understand the articles that you find, the ability to correctly use new and unfamiliar methods and instruments, the ability to design experiments and to handle the data you obtain from those experiments.
You will soon discover that it is difficult to do quality research unless you regularly read and actively reflect on the current technical literature in your field. Reading technical articles is a bit different from reading textbooks or popular novels and requires a certain degree of knowledge and skill. In this section, we will offer some advice concerning how to go about mastering this essential skill.
There are currently more than 40,000 journals (E. Garfield, 1996). These journals are published either by professional associations such as the American Chemical Society, American Institute of Chemical Engineers, American Association for the Advancement of Science, etc. For the last several years, the number of these journals has been growing at a nearly exponential rate (E. Garfield, 1996). This may make it seem as if reading and keeping pace with even the new research appearing in the current peer reviewed technical literature is a daunting, monumental task. Fortunately, it is well known that the bulk of the truly meaningful work appears to be concentrated in a relatively small subset of these journals. In fact, a mere 2,000 journals appear to account for 85% of the published articles and 95% of those papers that are cited by their peers in their published articles (E. Garfield, 1996). It is also useful to point out that the identity and relative ranking of these journals doesn't appear to vary much over time; a top ranked journal today is likely to be a top-ranked journal tomorrow. So, as you get going you will find that the bulk of the relevant literature in your field is likely confined to a finite and very manageable set of journals - likely fewer than ten in any one discipline.
Below you will find some specific suggestions regarding how to read a technical journal article:
This is useful information because once you become familiar with the standard format, it is easy to decide where you need to look in an article to find the specific information you need. The majority of the peer-reviewed literature is published in the form of communications or full papers. You will find detailed information concerning the specific format for both of these types of papers in the relevant linked sections.
Each section of a technical journal article contains different information. If you understand what information each section provides, it becomes much easier to find the information you need. A summary of the content of each section follows:
The purpose of the abstract is to provide the reader with a succinct summary of the article. Thus, the abstract should provide information about the specific research problem being investigated, the methods used, the results obtained, and what the results of the study mean in the larger context of the research study and in some cases the field of study. This means that the abstract is a good place to look first if you are trying to decided whether or not the paper is relevant to your work.
Paper titles are usually succinct, stand-alone overviews of a paper's contents. Authors usually make an effort to include keywords that abstracting services like CAS, ISI, etc. could use in indexing the article. So, if you are new to a field and/or subject, it is useful to take note of the words used in the title as they may provide you with useful keywords to use in any literature searches you may perform.
The introduction section generally provides an overview of the research problem being studied - why it is a worthy problem, what work has already been done by others to solve it, and what the authors may have already done in this area. Introductions are a good place to go if you are new to the subject. Key concepts should be defined and relevant references to key articles in the field cited. These citations in turn will provide you with information on who works in this field.
The experimental section will provide detailed information on how the authors accomplished the experiments described in their paper. Such information typically includes sources for all reagents and/or materials used, names and models of all instrumentation used, methods for synthesizing any reagents, and provide quantitative information on the characterization of any new materials synthesized.
Some articles will distinguish between "Results" and "Discussion" while others will combine this information into one section "Results and Discussion." In papers that contain two distinct sections ("Results" and "Discussion"), the data obtained from the study are introduced in the "Results" section and their interpretation is delayed until the "Discussion" section. In papers that contain one section ("Results and Discussion"), results are introduced and interpreted experiment-by-experiment.
Expect to spend some time in order to really understand any technical article that you read. Skim the article through the first time and focus on trying to grasp the "big picture." What is it that the authors were trying to do? How did they do it? What did they learn? Once you see the big picture, it will easier to focus on adding depth to your understanding by trying to understand the details of the study.
Take notes - using your own words - while you read. If you don't understand something, note that and make a point of asking your advisor, other group members, and/or other faculty about your question as soon as possible thereafter. To avoid potential problems (plagiarism), be careful not to copy down any phrases and/or sentences as later you may not remember that these words weren't your own.
You will get much more out of your reading if you discuss what you read with other interested individuals. Below you will find some advice concerning methods you can use to stimulate discussion in your laboratory and/or department.
The more you read the easier it will get - you will gain familiarity with the format and process of reading, the terminology used in your field of study, etc.
Unlike textbooks that generally discuss subject matter that is well accepted in your discipline, technical papers describe work that pushes the forefronts of science. As such they describe work in progress. The design of the studies, instrumentation used, quality of the results obtained and the validity of the interpretation of those results are being presented for discussion and/or acceptance by the greater scientific community. As a member of this community, you are encouraged - even obliged - to question and/or challenge their accuracy/validity. One last comment: If you have difficulty reading an article, it may be that the article is not well written.
One of the first things you will learn as you begin to do research is the importance of spending quality time researching and reading the relevant research in your field. You will also quickly learn that the bulk of the information you need is published in the form of technical articles rather than textbooks.
In this section we will discuss some useful strategies for identifying the essential or "core" literature in your field that is relevant to your research project:
There are a number of useful on-line resources that will help you identify the core literature in your field. A number of these tools are useful across disciplines but some are discipline specific. A list of some of the most common tools is shown below:
For information on access to these resources and directions on how to get started using these tools, consult your college or university's science librarian and/or the library's website. As these products are quite expensive, depending on your institution's library budget for electronic resources, it may or may not have all of the resources identified above. Because of the cost many institutions are now partnering with other area institutions to form local library consortia. So, you are strongly encouraged to consult with your science librarian if your library doesn't provide one of the aforementioned resources as they may be able to direct you to another library located nearby where you can access these tools for your literature search.
While the resources available on the internet may make it seem as if everything of value can be found there, it is important to point out that you will miss a lot of valuable resources and work if you limit yourself to internet resources alone. You may find it extremely useful to visit the stacks in your library which hold books related to your project topic. As books are organized by topic in the library, you may find some useful resources simply by browsing the stacks that you wouldn't have located in any other way.
Some Important questions to consider as you begin your research project:
Note that you can use several logic gates when performing a search if there are three or more search terms you wish to use.
Use of these tools with your reference list will allow you to identify who the key researchers are in your field, the names of the journals in which work relevant to your research project is most likely to be published, whether or not the research project is of current interest or not, etc. It is also a good idea to examine the words used in the titles of the materials you find. This may help you identify new and/or different words to use in your literature search so that you find all of the information that is relevant to your project.
E. Garfield. (1996) The Scientist. September 2, p. 13. "The Significant Scientific Literature Appears in a Small Core of Journals." http://www.the-scientist.com/
Today it seems like no matter what kind of research project you are involved in you will likely use one or more different instruments. The goal of this section is provide you with some suggestions regarding how you can as quickly and painlessly as possible learn to make meaningful measurements using new and unfamiliar instrumentation.
1. Familiarize yourself with the basic principles behind how the instrument works.
If you understand how the instrument works, it is often much easier to learn to operate it. Useful resources you may wish to consult in learning about the instrument you will use include textbooks, monographs, technical articles, and the world-wide-web. For example, many instrument manufacturers provide extensive background information on their products on-line and some even provide training materials gratis upon request.
2. Locate and read the manufacturer's instrument manual
If instrument manual not readily available in your laboratory or facility, locate the telephone number for the instrument manufacturer (look on the internet) and see if they can provide you with a replacement copy. If you cannot locate a copy of the original manual, it may be possible to find a set of directions for your instrument that has been written and posted on the internet. Though it might be tempting to use this strategy, remember that any information you find on the internet may be incomplete and/or inaccurate so approach the use of this kind of information with due caution.
3. If an instrument manual is not available, consider writing your own set of directions once you have mastered the use of the instrument.
These are referred to as standard operating protocols (SOP) in industry. View the preparation of an SOP as a useful opportunity for you to practice your communications skills, hone your understanding of how to use the instrument, and as a mechanism for giving something back to your professor and/or research laboratory.
4. Run a standard sample on the instrument.
In learning to use a new instrument, it is wise to first gain self-confidence and demonstrate competency by running a standard sample. Most instruments when they are first sold come with a standard sample. A standard sample is a material that is stable, of known/reliable composition, and one for which the quantitative goodness of the measurements afforded by that particular instrument are well established and also likely easily obtained.
We have an ethical obligation to check our data and make sure that they are accurate before publishing them in the literature. This doesn’t mean that we must be 100% certain before we communicate our findings but it does mean that we should have carefully eliminated all sources of error, ruled out any other reasonable hypotheses first.
All data – even negative results - must be reported. Data should never be “edited” so that they fit our hypotheses, no matter how confident we may be about the validity of our hypotheses. A suspect data point (note: not data points) should only be removed if you can legitimately meet the statistical requirements for an outlier. Report the results of all of your experiments to your advisor no matter how attractive or unattractive you feel the results may be.
Approach your work with a healthy sense of skepticism. Be critical of your results and of your interpretation. Be careful not to jump too quickly to conclusions. That is investigator bias. A good way to make sure that you aren’t wearing blinders is to present your data to your advisor and/or other member’s of your research group. If they don’t see what you see in the data, it may be that the trend you see in the data really isn’t there.
When using a new, unfamiliar method of data analysis always exercise due caution. This is particularly important today as we have access on our computer desktops to some very sophisticated methods of data analysis. Sometimes, it is simply too easy to use these programs without fully understanding the underlying methods, their assumptions, and limitations. Don’t use methods that you don’t understand and cannot defend. Don’t use something simply because your advisor tells you to either. Ignorance is not a valid excuse for misusing statistical methods of data analysis. Ask your advisor and/or consult a statistician if you don’t understand what you are doing, learn the background on the method, and then you will be able to apply it with confidence and skill to the analysis of your data.
Today due to the increasing complexity of scientific research problems, research is often carried out by several individuals working together as a team. All the members of your team will not necessarily be scientists or engineers though they likely have a strong background in a science of technology-related field. You may find yourself working closely with graphics designers, accountants, lawyers, etc. You will find good people skills and good communications skills important assets when involved in team efforts.
Your research advisor is the person who will oversee your project in the research laboratory. Frequently students are involved in undergraduate research experiences that take place in colleges or universities. There, your advisor is most likely to be a professor, a faculty member affiliated with a specific academic department. However, you may be supervised by a postdoctoral student, graduate student or a laboratory technician. If you are involved in a research experience at a government laboratory or at a company, you are likely to work as a member of a team that is supervised by several individuals at different levels within the organization. Your immediate supervisor most likely has some advanced degree - a M.S. or Ph.D.
Professional titles are not simply for "show." A title tells you a great deal of information concerning the level of experience, professional reputation, and the responsibilities that an individual has within an organization. In this section we will discuss the significance of the titles of some of the individuals you are likely to encounter during an undergraduate research experience.
Analysts are responsible for the statistical analysis of the data generated by the discovery and research & development scientists and work collaboratively with these individuals and research teams. They may use existing statistical algorithms or techniques or they may develop new algorithms or techniques allowing the analysis of large and/or complex data sets. The analysis they carry out may take several hours or even days to complete so analysts may work on several projects at the same time. Analysts often have a have bachelor’s or graduate degree in mathematics or computer science and/or a bachelor’s degree in science or engineering with a concentration in mathematics or computer science.
Lab Technicians play a vital role in discovery and research & development research teams providing scientists with the needed technical support to accomplish their work. Under the supervision of scientists, lab technicians carry out the bulk of the routine experimental tasks that need to be performed on a day-to-day basis in the research laboratory. These individuals usually have an Associate of Arts degree from an accredited training program.
Operator is a title unique to the Manufacturing or Operations unit in a private company. In a biotechnology company, this unit is responsible for the scale-up of the synthesis process for any promising candidate drugs and to streamline these processes for environmental impact, efficiency, and cost savings. Operators are engineers with a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in engineering. Manufacturing or Operations Managers are usually engineers with a doctorate degree in engineering whose job it is to oversee the work of the operators and ensure that the unit meets its deadlines.
Depending on the type of academic institution at which your faculty mentor works, he/she may be more or less involved in certain kinds of activities. Of course, every individual and every academic institution is unique so take our comments with a grain of salt!
In general faculty who work at community colleges, primarily undergraduate institutions and comprehensive universities spend the majority of their time and effort on student instruction while faculty who work at graduate research universities tend to spend a significant fraction of their effort in research related activities in addition to student instruction at the undergraduate and/or graduate levels. Faculty salary, teaching and service assignments, and workloads are often determined by academic rank. There are three academic ranks: assistant, associate, and full professor.
For the first six years of a faculty member's career they are Assistant Professors. They are generally regarded as probationary faculty members. Their teaching, research, and service accomplishments are usually evaluated annually by the other tenured members of their department. Faculty at the rank of Assistant Professor usually do not have tenure.
Normally during the sixth year a probationary faculty member's teaching, research, and service contributions to his/her department and discipline are evaluated by his/her peers both inside and outside the university. The particular process is somewhat unique to each institution but in general involves some form of evaluation at all levels of the institution from the faculty member's own department all the way up to and including the Board of Trustees of the college or university. If the accomplishments in each area are determined to be strong, the faculty member is awarded "tenure" by his/her institution. This means that unless the faculty member commits a grievous act, they will hold their position at the college or university until they choose to leave. Tenure is truly a unique academic phenomenon. Tenure allows a faculty member the freedom to share their ideas, pursue research projects, etc. that may test current societal norms or theories and which allow both the individual, the university, and society to make significant advances that might otherwise not be possible.
Upon receiving tenure, at most institutions faculty are also promoted to Associate Professor. Some graduate research universities will recognize probationary faculty at an earlier stage however. So, the rank of Associate Professor does not necessarily mean that the person is tenured.
Unlike promotion to the rank of Associate Professor, promotion to Full Professor does not occur at any set time. When an Associate Professor achieves international distinction in their discipline, they may apply for promotion to the rank of full professor. The evaluation process for promotion is very similar to that for tenure - the faculty member submits a dossier documenting his/her record of accomplishments in teaching, research, and service. The dossier is evaluated first by the individual's colleagues in the department who hold the rank of full professor. Upon a positive vote, the dossier is then evaluated at increasingly higher levels of the college or university. The rank of full professor is the highest academic rank that is accorded a faculty member at any college or university.
Scientists are generally the individuals carrying out the day-to-day research in the Discovery, the Research & Development, and the Quality units (Quality Control and Quality Assurance) in a private company. Depending on the individual’s education and work experience, there are several different titles for scientists such as:
Undergraduates working in the private sector usually assist a scientist in the day-to-day conduct of their work carrying out experiments, learning how to properly document experimental results, and participate in writing reports about the findings and in oral presentations to their group.
Assistant Scientist or Research Associate is the title often associated with entry-level positions at the bachelor’s level. These individuals work under the supervision of senior scientists to carry out experiments, collect and analyze data, and present research findings to their team leader and/or in more formal settings to other groups.
Scientists with a M.S. and some work experience or with a Ph.D. are usually referred to as Senior Scientists or Principal Scientists. Senior Scientists are usually responsible for the design, implementation, and execution of research projects and the preparation and delivery of oral conference presentations and peer-reviewed technical papers. They typically supervise one or more scientists and/or lab technicians who carry out the actual research work.
Many companies reward/recognize their most accomplished, productive scientists and engineers formally through membership in a select society and with a title such as “Research Fellow.” These individuals are usually found in the Discovery or Research & Development units and are involved in cutting-edge research projects of vital interest to the company.
Postdoctoral students or "post docs" as they are frequently called are recently graduated Ph.D.'s who wish to acquire additional research experience before beginning their scientific careers in academe or industry. Often post docs are students who are interested in pursuing a career in academe for which experience as a post doc is generally perceived of as a prerequisite. Post doctoral students typically identify a mentor and research area based on their past and current interests and technical expertise. Two or three year appointments are the norm for these positions. In some fields such as biology postgraduate students may pursue two or more post doctoral fellowships before starting their own independent research careers. In other fields such as chemistry, postgraduates usually complete one postdoctoral fellowship before looking for full time employment. Although there are teaching postdoctoral fellowships, the majority of postdoctoral students spend most of their time working on one or more research projects with a strong interest in bringing their projects to full fruition - presenting and publishing as much of their work as possible in the highest quality technical journals.
Students who have successfully completed their undergraduate study in science, technology, engineering and mathematics frequently continue their education for two or more years in order to obtain an advanced degree. There are two advanced degrees commonly awarded in this country the Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Science (M.S.) degree and the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree. An important component of most M.S. and Ph.D. programs is the completion of a thesis or dissertation that documents the completion of an original research project.
The Master of Arts and the Master of Science degrees can be awarded either for coursework study or for completion of a program of study that includes some coursework and a thesis. These programs of study are typically two years long. In some fields of study such as engineering, the masters degree is normally considered the terminal degree while in other fields of study such as the physical sciences the doctoral degree is the terminal advanced degree.
This is the highest degree awarded for scholarly study in any field of study carried out at a university today. The Ph.D. is the normal prerequisite for those individuals who wish to pursue a career in academe. The Ph.D. degree is awarded for demonstration of aptitude and ability to carry out and effectively communicate independent research in one's chosen field of study. The program of study usually includes completion of a minimum of a year of advanced coursework, passing a series of examinations often referred to as cumulative exams or "cumes", and the successful completion of a written dissertation describing an original series of investigations in one's field and the oral defense of this work before a committee of one's peers. Unlike the bachelor's and master's degrees, there is no set period of study for the Ph.D. degree. Currently in the physical sciences, the average time-to-degree is approximately five years.
In the sciences and engineering students pursuing an advanced degree often receive financial support in the form of a teaching assistantship. This form of financial support is often awarded to students entering a doctoral program for their first year of study. Students supported on a teaching assistantship receive a stipend in exchange for teaching one or more sections of a recitation (problem solving session) or laboratory section of one or more courses each semester. Some graduate students beyond the first year of study are also supported on teaching assistantships. The disadvantage of being supported on a teaching assistantship beyond the first year of study is that the student must balance the demands of their teaching assistantship with those imposed by their graduate research advisor in the laboratory in order to make adequate progress on their thesis research project.
The other common form of financial support is a research assistantship. Students supported on a research assistantship receive a stipend in exchange for performing research that is frequently related to their thesis research. The advantage of being supported on a research assistantship is that it often allows the graduate student the time and energy needed to focus on their thesis research project. However, depending on the source of the financial support, the student may be required to work on a research project that will not contribute toward their thesis. If the source of the support is a private company then there may be confidentiality issues that may limit or even prohibit the presentation and publication of the research findings. Consequently, it is important for a graduate student accepting a research assistantship to inquire in advance concerning the issue of confidentiality in order to determine whether or the not research, in part or in whole, can become part of their thesis, to determine whether or not it can be presented publicly by the student at conferences, and to determine whether or not the work can be published in a peer-reviewed journal.
In larger research groups and in certain disciplines, your research group may include one or more technicians. These individuals are often responsible for student training and/or routine maintenance of sophisticated instrumentation and or the execution of advanced research protocols. In some laboratories, these individuals may carry out their own research projects in addition to performing the aforementioned duties. They often have a bachelor's degree but may be Ph.D. scientists, too.
As you begin your undergraduate research project, you should document everything that you do in writing in a lab notebook. As a general rule, you can use any permanently bound book containing sequentially numbered pages for this purpose. Ideally, a notebook that is labeled "laboratory notebook" is preferable as it likely has been designed for this purpose. If you decide to use another kind of book for this purpose, make sure that the paper is acid-free and that the notebook looks well constructed (cover, binding, etc.). Since this notebook normally remains the property of the laboratory and/or institution at which you are working, it is best to ask your advisor for a laboratory notebook and to use whatever notebook you are given for this purpose.
A real time record of what was done at what specific point in time on a project for the individuals and/or organizations that may have funded the research, for your advisor and you to facilitate your efforts in publishing and/or patenting your work. A good record gives confidence in the reproducibility of your work, aids others in building on your research.
What should you record in a laboratory notebook? Everything that is directly relevant to your work. Your laboratory notebook should provide literature citations for any relevant research and/or protocols that you follow in your work. Your notebook should provide a detailed record of exactly what you do in the laboratory in order to obtain your experimental results. The record should be as detailed as possible. If you did not know how to do something then assume that the reader of your notebook will also not know how to do it. You should include information on all the reagents, equipment and instrumentation that you use. For instrumentation and equipment: What model? What make? Where are they located? For reagents: What supplier/manufacturer? What level purity? What lot number? Where is the supplier/manufacturer located? Your notebook should also contain all of your experimental results where practical and if impractical you should include a drawing or photograph that shows the critical elements/characteristics. If you use some computer program to process and/or analyze your data, you should explain exactly how the data were processed. If your data are in electronic format, you should provide the names of all the data files and identify where the data are stored in the laboratory. Bottom-line: When in doubt, write it out!
Be sure to consult your research advisor to determine what policies he/she may require in terms of notebook format. In general, there is no set format one must follow. As a general rule, it is a good idea to set aside several pages at the start of the notebook for use as a table of contents. This will help you and others find things in the notebook quickly later. A brief (10 word) description of the experiment, date - including year, and the page numbers on which the experiment is described constitute a useful table of contents entry.
Each entry should begin on a new page of the notebook. A descriptive title should appear at the top of the page together with the data on which the work is being done (be sure to include the year). Note that exactly the same information should appear in your table of contents at the front of your notebook. Get in the habit of identifying each day's work in your table of contents the day you are doing the actual work. It only takes a second and will make your notebook that much more valuable both to you and future students in being able to locate past experiments and results.
Each page of your notebook should ideally contain one day's work. If you need more than one page to record a day's worth of work then do so. However, if you have empty space at the bottom of a page do not begin a new day's work there. Rather get in the habit of drawing a single diagonal line through the empty space and then begin the next day's work on a fresh page.
If you believe that your work will result in a patent, then it is useful to make sure that someone else (your advisor or a colleague in the laboratory) "witnesses" your work. This means that they read through each day's work and then initial and date that page. Your witness need not be an expert in your field of research. Their role is simply to acknowledge that the work you have described was written into the official record on those pages of your laboratory notebook on the date indicated.
Ultimately, if you want your work to become part of the archival primary literature as a peer-reviewed publication, you will need to be able to describe exactly the materials (source and quality), instrumentation (make and model), procedures, experimental conditions, instrumental parameters, and data processing parameters were used to acquire your experimental results. This information is usually summarized in the "Experimental" or "Research Methods" section of a technical paper. If you are planning on writing a thesis, you will need the information for the "Experimental" chapter. For this reason you should get in the habit of writing everything in your laboratory notebook. Ideally, you should record this information as you go along where it is relevant to each day's work. However, if you use the same reagents or instruments over and over again you might dedicate a page near the back of your notebook specifically for this purpose.
Primary reference: Brautigan, D.L.; Ferguson-Miller, S.; Margoliash, E. Methods in Enzymology 1978, volume 53D, pp 131-132.
A. Preparation of 0.076 M Sodium Phosphate Buffer, pH 7.0
Primary reference: Perrin, D.D.; Dempsey, B. Buffers for pH and Metal Ion Control. Chapman and Hall: New York, 1974; p. 138.
B. Preparation of 250 mL of 0. 15 M Na2HPO4
Calculation: 0.15 mol/L * 0.25 L * 141.96 g/mole = 5.324 g needed
I weighed 5.3240 g Na2HPO4 and transferred it quantitatively into a 250 mL volumetric flask to which I added distilled (DI) H2O to the mark. I mixed the solution 20x by inversion.
C. Preparation of 250 mL of 0. 15 M H2NaPO4
Calculation: 0.15 mol/L * 0.25 L * 130.99 g/mole = 5.175 g needed
I weighed 5.1750 g H2NaHPO4.H2O and transferred it quantitatively into a 250 mL volumetric flask to which I added DI H2O to the mark. I mixed the solution 20x by inversion.
D. Preparation of 500 mL of 0. 076 M Sodium Phosphate Buffer, pH 7.0
I combined 97.5 mL of 0.15 M NaH2PO4 (part A) and 152.5 mL of 0.15 M H2NaPO4 (part B) in a 300 mL beaker and measured the pH. The pH was 6.96 so I transferred the solution to a 500 mL volumetric flask which I then filled to the mark with DI H2O. The pH was 6.99. I stored the buffer in the cold room.
Hover over blue text to see description
While you are carrying out undergraduate research you will likely use instrumentation, materials and reagents that have the potential to harm you, your co-workers and perhaps even the environment. Consequently, it is important to spend time at the outset of your project learning the safety standards of your discipline and workplace to insure everyone's good health and safety.
Important note: the information on this website should not be viewed as a substitute for obtaining the appropriate safety training available in your department and/or institution.
Laboratories (U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration) Avail. URL: http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/laboratories/index.html
Today a formal program of safety training is a required element in chemical hygiene plans and should be completed before beginning any actual work in the laboratory. Training usually involves review of the department's chemical hygiene plan and waste disposal procedures and discussion of the significant physical and health hazards associated with the specific type of research and instruction in specific procedures that researchers should use in order to prevent and limit exposure to the health hazards in that workplace. At some institutions training may take place on-line and require the completion of some type of quiz and/or examination. Depending on the nature of the work you will be doing, you may also be expected to complete some specialty training as well. Additional safety training is normally required for individuals working with chemicals, biological materials, radioactivity, lasers, and/or heavy machinery
Research in many fields such as wildlife and marine ecology, geology, etc. involve field work. Field work presents its own unique set of safety challenges. If you are going to work in the field then the following are important safety considerations.
You should be in good physical health and able to undertake strenuous physical activity. Many field sites are remote. Access often requires hiking over rugged terrain or even rock climbing. The field station itself may be primitive. Your studies may require that you sleep in a tent and cook outdoors over an open flame. You may need to operate heavy equipment such as a chain saw. Outdoor weather is always a consideration – particularly in terms of extremes of temperature. Your work may be abroad and require that you receive immunization for potentially serious illness such as communicable disease beforehand. If you have allergies or serious medical conditions such as diabetes it is important that you bring an adequate supply of your medications with you.
You should make sure that you have received the appropriate training for the environment in which you will do field work. Your work may require you to mount a safety ladder and work at elevated heights, use climbing equipment, swim, dive, fly (small planes, helicopters), operate a boat (requires a valid license), work in chest waders, know wilderness first aid/CPR, be able to use survival skills, operate a GPS, handle wild animals, and/or toxic materials (radioactivity, biohazards, chemical hazards, compressed gases).
If you are involved in international research, it is important to obtain your passport and visas in order well in advance. Make sure that you have health insurance coverage. Obtain any recommended vaccinations and make sure that you are aware of any health concerns and what food is safe to eat in the country and region of the country in which you will be working. Check with the State Department so you know if there are any travel warnings or restrictions.
You need to know and understand the potential hazards presented by the area in which you will do field work. For example, there may be predatory animals (e.g., bears), venomous amphibians, or toxic plants. The dangers may also be human as the area in which you work may be an area in which there has been past/present civil or political unrest. You should make sure that you know what the precautions are for each potentially hazardous situation and that you have received the training to handle these situations. Accidents are always possible when working outdoors – cuts, sprains, falls, insect bites, sunburn, and dehydration are not uncommon. Consequently it is vital that you follow the direction of your supervisor in the field at all times. Do not engage in horseplay.
Each workplace using chemicals in its work is required by law to have a written program referred to as the chemical hygiene plan (CHP) that outlines the department and institutions procedures, training plans, and the protective measures in use to protect its workers from the health hazards associated with their work. Before beginning work in your laboratory, be sure to contact your Office of Environmental Health and Safety and obtain a copy of your department's CHP and familiarize yourself with the safety program.
The following are some useful guidelines that applicable no matter what kind of project you are engaged in.
Personal protective equipment is a general term used to describe anything you can wear and/or use in order to protect yourself when working with chemical or biological hazards. Common examples of personal protective equipment include: footwear, lab coats, gloves, safety goggles and glasses, face shields, hard hats, respirators, and fume hoods.
Closed toe, leather shoes provide the best general protection. Sandals, sneakers, etc. do not provide adequate protection in case of spills (biological or chemical hazards), or when handling heavy objects, tools, or involved in activities where heavy objects might fall onto the feet. If you will be involved with heavy machinery, steel-reinforced safety shoes may be required. There are also safety shoes specially designed to provide protection against extreme temperatures, caustic chemicals, and/or electrical hazards. . If you will be working in a laboratory presenting any of these hazards for an extended period of time, you should contact your Office of Environmental Health and Safety to see if they will process a request for the purchase of a pair of the appropriate safety shoes.
Lab coats are normally worn in the research laboratory to protect your normal clothing against biological or chemical spills and to provide some additional body protection beyond that provided by your normal clothing. Important considerations in selecting an appropriate lab coat are the types of hazards (biological, chemical, fire, cold, etc.) to which you may be exposed. To be effective, the fabric should be resistant to the materials you are using. In addition, a lab coat should fit properly (you should be able to move comfortably in it with the coat buttoned or snapped down the front), be clean, and have long sleeves. Lab coats are normally provided by one's laboratory for the duration of the project.
When handling chemical, physical, and/or biological hazards that can enter the body through the skin, it is important to wear the proper protective gloves. Note that there is no perfect glove: There is no kind of glove that will protect you from all hazards. There are several different kinds of gloves: disposable, fabric, leather, and metal mesh.
In addition to identifying the correct kind of glove, it is also important to make sure that the gloves that you use fit properly. Most gloves are commercially available in several different sizes. If you will be wearing gloves for an extended period of time (several hours or more), you may find it useful to purchase a box of disposable cotton glove liners that you can wear underneath your disposable gloves. Glove liners absorb perspiration and help minimize skin irritation.
As a general rule, safety glasses with side shields should be worn at all times in the research laboratory even if you wear prescription glasses. Safety goggles rather than safety glasses are preferred whenever a chemical splash is a potential hazard. The side shields on safety glasses are simply not as effective as goggles in protecting your eyes from small particles and liquid splatter.
Most laboratories provide safety glasses or goggles to their researchers. If you wear prescription glasses and will be working in the lab for an extended period of time, you should contact your Office of Environmental Health and Safety to see if they will process a request for prescription safety glasses (special request). If you wear contact lens underneath safety glasses be sure to consider the additional potential risk that your contact lenses may present if dust, caustic reagents or solvents get underneath your lenses and in your eyes. Removing your contact lenses in such a situation may take added time and increase your risk of injury.
A face shield should be worn whenever there the entire face needs protection. This means any time there is a potential that an aerosol of chemical or biological hazardous material may be created or whenever chemical or biohazards could splatter, or whenever there is the potential for flying particles or sparks (e.g., high pressure work, welding, soldering, machining, fire, explosion, etc.). A face shield should always be worn whenever handling tissue samples or animals where there is the potential for infectious transmission. Safety glasses or goggles should always be worn underneath a face shield for maximal protection.
Hard hats are normally worn when in construction and/or pilot plant work when falling objects or electrical conductors are potential workplace hazards. There are two general types of top hats: Type I and Type II. The former are designed to provide protection for the top of the head while the latter provide protection for the top and off-center protection as well. An excellent introduction to hard hat safety is available on-line at: www.hardhats.4ursafety.com/
Respirators filter contaminants, either small airborne particles or chemicals including gases, out of the air. Whenever possible you should structure your work so that it can be carried out in a hood. Selection and purchase of a suitable respirator should be carried out only in consultation with your Office of Environmental Health and Safety as it is extremely important that the respirator fit properly and that it has the correct filters to be effective when used with your particular hazards. The National Institute for Safety and Health (NIOSH) publishes a useful booklet available on-line at: www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2005-100/default.htmldiscussing the selection of respirators. If you are going to work with a respirator, be sure to obtain training prior to using this PPE. One last comment, it is important to remember that to operate properly respirators must be regularly cleaned, sanitized (if biological hazards are involved), and maintained.
Whenever you use flammable or hazardous materials that pose an airborne or explosive hazard, you should work in a fume hood. Exposure is controlled in part through the moveable glass plate, the sash, that covers the front of the hood. Maximal protection is afforded when the sash, if it moves vertically, is closed or lowered as much as possible.
There are different types of fume hoods. Two of the most common types are the constant air volume (CAV) and the variable air volume (VAV) hoods. Constant air volume hoods are designed to maintain a constant air flow that doesn’t vary when the hood sash is opened or closed. The disadvantage of these hoods is that the face velocity increases when the hood sash is lowered or decreases when the hood sash is raised as a result which can lead to either excessive turbulence and the escape of toxic materials from the hood. Variable air volume hoods are designed to maintain a constant face velocity whenever the hood sash is opened or closed minimizing air turbulence at the sash extrema and maximizing user protection.
It is important that there be good airflow to the hood exhaust. Today most hoods are equipped with an airflow meter. These measure the face velocity which is the rate at which air is pulled into the hood exhaust.
Fume hoods should be inspected annually. Dated inspection stickers should be posted conspicuously somewhere on the front of the fume hood. Do not hesitate to contact the Office of Environmental Healthy and Safety at your workplace if you cannot find a sticker or if the sticker is more than one year old.
All hoods are not the same. Depending on the hazards involved in your work, you may need to use a special kind of fume hood.
Best Glove Company has an excellent website that includes an html tool you can use to identify the appropriate glove for your research application. See: "What is the Best Glove for Me?" Avail. URL: http://www.bestglove.com/site/products/whatsthebestgloveforme.aspx
"All About Head Protection." Avail. URL: http://www.hardhats.4ursafety.com/
"NIOSH Respirator Selection Logic 2004." Avail. URL: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2005-100/default.html
"Chemical Fume Hood Handbook." (Northwestern University Office of the Vice President for Research) Avail.URL: http://www.louisville.edu/admin/dehs/lsfume.htm
Always carefully read:
before working with any new and unfamiliar chemical reagent. Issues to research and think carefully about before using a new reagent include the following:
Reagent labels provide an extremely useful first means of defense in identifying the potential hazards presented by use of a specific reagent. The Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) requires all manufacturers to label their products with the name of the material, any relevant hazard warnings, and their name. Always read the label before you plan to use any chemical or biological reagent. Labels can tell you a lot about a reagent: Its name, chemical formula, the name and address of the manufacturer, the reagent's physical properties, any health hazards associated with its use, and information on how to handle and store the reagent. While reagent labels do provide a lot of useful safety information, it is important to stress that they aren't intended to serve as a researcher's sole or even primary means of safety information on a chemical. They are intended to provide an immediate warning sufficient to prompt you, the user, to read more detailed information such as that provided by Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS's).
Most labels use a visual labeling system such as that developed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in order to provide a swift visual means of determining the potential hazards represented by a reagent. In brief, the NFPA system is based on a diamond composed of four color-coded squares each containing an integer ranging between 0 and 4 that represented the intensity of the hazard represented by the reagent in four different categories:
The higher the number the more significant the hazard represented by the chemical in that particular area. So, zero signals that the reagent poses a mimimum hazard while 4 indicates that the reagent poses a severe or potentially life-threatening hazard to the user which means that the reagent should be used only with extreme caution. It is important to stress that just because a reagent may have a zero hazard number in a specific category doesn't mean that it is harmless. Handle every reagent with due care.
There are a number of different codes used to identify special hazards. These include: ox (oxidant), ACI (acid), ALK (base), COR (corrosive), and a W with a slash through it (water reactive).
Material Safety Data Sheets or MSDSs are intended (the key word here) to provide a comprehensive source of written information about the properties, handling, and transport of chemical reagents. All manufacturers are required to provide users with an MSDS for each reagent that they sell. All employers including academic institutions are required to provide the relevant MSDS to any employee working with that reagent upon request. Although it would be ideal to have a copy of all of the relevant MSDSs in each and every laboratory, it is not very practical. Consequently it is important for you to contact your Office of Environmental Health and Safety in order to determine where MSDSs are kept at your workplace. Also, always consult the most recent version available of an MSDS. Note that you can always call the manufacturer of any chemical you use and request a copy of the MSDS be faxed to you. Many manufacturers including Sigma-Aldrich now provide these MSDSs on their website. There are also a number of excellent websites (see the reference section) that provide a wide range of reagent MSDSs for general use. . In this way, you can obtain and maintain your own set of copies of MSDS's for the reagents with which you will work in the laboratory.
In practice there are problems with the quality of information on some MSDS's which has led to recent criticism of MSDS's by the research community (see Ritter, S.K. C&E News 2004, 83(6), 24-26. "Material Safety Data Sheets Eyed.") If you are working with hazardous materials, then you are strongly advised to obtain several MSDS's for these materials and to cross check the information on them before you use that reagent. If you find any inconsistencies or have any concerns about how to use the reagent in question safely in the lab, consult your advisor and your Office of Environmental Health and Safety for advice.
Today most MSDS's follow a 16-section format recommended by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in the early 1990's and subsequently endorsed by OSHA.
An excellent introduction to the ANSI formatted MSDS is available on-line at:
Oklahoma State Office of Environmental Health and Safety has developed a good set of questions to use when examining a new MSDS that is available on-line at:
This section provides the common chemical and trade names for the chemical reagent as well as contact information, useful in case of emergency, for the chemical supplier. This section will also provide the date on which the MSDS was prepared. Whenever possible consult the latest version of an MSDS currently available.
In the case of reagents that are sold as mixtures, this section provides composition information for any known health hazards that are present and which constitute more than 0.1% of the material. This section also provides information on the safe exposure limits such as the OSHA permissible exposure limit.
The third section of the MSDS provides information on major hazards that may be associated with use and handling of reagent such as toxicity and flammability.
Appropriate measures for treatment of injuries by inhalation, ingestion, and eye and/or skin contact are outlined in this section.
This section provides information on flammability and/or explosive nature of the reagent and details the appropriate equipment and or measures to take if a fire or explosion takes place involving the reagent.
Procedures and materials that should be used in case of an accidental spill are provided in this section of the MSDS.
This section provides useful information regarding the proper methods to use in handling and storing the reagent in the laboratory. Chemical incompatibilities, information about the potential for the formation of peroxides (explosion hazards) upon extended storage, need for a flammable storage cabinet, etc. are detailed here.
This section provides information on the types of personal protective equipment that may be required in order to safely handle and work with the reagent.
Useful fundamental data regarding the physical and chemical properties of the reagent such as the form, color, odor, melting point, boiling point, solubility in water, vapor pressure, are provided in this section. This information can be extremely helpful in determining how to properly handle and store a reagent.
If the material is or could become unstable, this section will provide information on any conditions that might produce hazardous reactions and/or decomposition of the reagent.
Information on the toxicity of the reagent is detailed here. Data usually provided include the LD50 (lethal dose 50; single, usually oral, dose of the reagent that results in the death of 50% of test subjects) and the LC50 (lethal concentration 50; concentration of an inhaled volume of air containing the reagent that produces death in 50% of test subjects).
This section provides any available information concerning the effect that release of the reagent might have on plants and/or animals in the environment.
Information on the appropriate methods that may be used to dispose of waste containing the reagent are described in this section of the MSDS.
This section provides information on how the reagent may be safely transported.
Any relevant regulatory information relevant to risks and safe use of the reagent are provided in this section.
This section may contain the name of the author of the MSDS, any references that he/she used to prepare the MSDS, and often contains legal disclaimers regarding the use of the MSDS that are intended to protect the manufacturer against liability.
It is important to become informed concerning the appropriate emergency protocols for dealing with whatever routine hazards you may encounter while working in your lab. Do you know what to do in case of an emergency? It is critical to learn what the appropriate emergency measures are and to make sure you know how to use the available safety equipment now because when an emergency arises there simply won't be any time to do this.
Your laboratory should have a plan for evacuation in case of an emergency. Do you know what your lab's emergency plan is for each of the following types of emergency:
You should only consider fighting a fire when all of the following statements are true:
Where are the fire exits in your laboratory? There should be two clearly marked exits from each laboratory. These doors should not be blocked by furniture, equipment, or instrumentation.
Locate the fire extinguishers in your laboratory. What types of extinguishers do you have in your laboratory? Check to make sure that these extinguishers are the correct types for the kinds of hazards you are likely to face while working on your research project.
The fire extinguishers in your laboratory should be inspected on a regular basis by someone from either the Office of Environmental Health and Safety or Fire Safety at your institution. Don't make assumptions about safety equipment. Periodically check the date on the red tag and the gauge on the fire extinguisher to make sure that the extinguisher is full (gauge) and that the extinguisher is known to be in good working order (red tag). Always check these before using a fire extinguisher.
There are four main types of fire extinguishers: A, B, C, and D.
There are also multi-class fire extinguishers as well. One of the most common multi-class fire extinguishers is the carbon dioxide extinguisher which can be used for Class B and C fires.
Fire extinguishers can be heavy and awkward to use effectively in an emergency situation if you aren't properly trained. If you haven't used a fire extinguisher before, it is really important to obtain training first. Contact your Office of Environmental Health and Safety or your Fire Safety Officer.
PASS, which stands for pull, aim, squeeze, and sweep, is a common acronym used to summarize the general procedure for using a fire extinguisher properly:
Don't walk away from the scene until you are certain that the fire has been completely extinguished.
The Hanford Fire Department has an excellent series of photographs illustrating the PASS process on their website at URL: www.hanford.gov/fire/safety/extingrs.htm#use
Be sure to inform your Office of Environmental Health and Safety and/or your Fire Safety Office as soon as possible that you have used the fire extinguisher. This is important so that the fire extinguisher can be inspected and recharged.
First attempt to ascertain the source of the problem. If the victim is unconscious, look around and make sure that electricity isn't responsible. If it is, use a non-conductive object to move the source of electricity away from the victim and seek immediate medical help.
If the victim is unconscious or does not appear to be breathing, call 911 and request medical assistance immediately. Do not move the victim unless instructed to do so by medical personnel.
If the victim appears to have been splashed with a chemical or solvent, assist them to the nearest emergency shower and pull the handle. Help the victim remove any contaminated clothing and be prepared to provide them with a clean lab coat or other temporary covering.
Advance planning coupled with knowledge (information) is the best offense in case of an emergency. Locate the following information, insert it into the table provided, Xerox and paste the completed table publicly at your lab bench where you can see it in case of an emergency.
Today's research laboratory is equipped with a wide range of emergency equipment that can be invaluable in mitigating the severity of an injury in case of an accidental exposure to or a fire and/or explosion involving a hazardous reagent. The equipment that should be available in your laboratory in case of emergency includes:
Take note of the location of the aforementioned safety equipment in your laboratory now and make sure that you understand how to use each of these in case of an emergency. We will briefly discuss the purpose and proper use of each of these devices below.
Some eye wash stations consist of a mirror and a set of bottles containing saline solution that the user can remove and use to flood the injured eye with water. No matter the form, the eye wash station is intended to allow you to flood the eye with a continuous stream of water for a minimum of 15-minutes. Ideally the eye wash station should be located within 20 feet of your work space. Since you may not be able to see clearly in an emergency, it is important to locate your eye wash station now before you need it.
If you need to use the eye wash station and you have gotten something in your eye. First, remove the object. Use one hand to hold open your eyelid and activate the eye wash using your other hand. Keep the eye open. Do not blink as that prevents the water from flushing your eye. Continue flushing the affected eye for a minimum of 15-minutes. Seek prompt medical attention as soon as possible thereafter.
"Drench" showers are the most common type of emergency shower and are intended to provide on-the-spot cleansing when a chemical and/or solvent has been spilled, contacted a large portion of your head and/or body, or in a fire. The user should stand underneath the shower head, pull the handle, and immediately remove any clothing covering the affected limb(s). These showers are intended to deliver a continuous stream of water at a rate of at least 20 gallons/minute for a minimum of 15-minutes so don't pull the handle unless you mean business!
Spill kits (sections lacking, should ask pam to write more)
There are typically three kinds of reagent spill kits commonly found in the research laboratory: acid, base, and solvent.
If you have one of these in your lab, it is important to periodically inspect and restock your first aid kit so that it will be useful in an emergency. In general these kits are most useful for small injuries such as a cut finger.
Fire blankets are not intended for use in fighting fires. Do not attempt to use them to extinguish fires. Rather they are intended to extinguish clothing fires. They are very easy to use: simply yank the blanket out of the cabinet and wrap it around the prostrate victim. Keep the victim wrapped until help arrives as victims often are in shock and the fire blanket will help keep the victim warm.
Each research laboratory is required by law to have two unobstructed means of exit in case of emergency. These emergency exits are generally marked by readily visible red "Exit" signs placed immediately above the door.
Note: The information below is not intended to serve as a substitute for formal training or professional advice and/or treatment. Always immediately seek medical assistance from a medical professional if you believe that you are in a potentially life-threatening emergency situation. Even if you don't believe a situation is life-threatening report the accident as soon as possible to your advisor and/or your Office of Environmental Health and Safety.
Wash the wound thoroughly with mild soap and water. As there is always the potential for infection, be sure to seek medical attention as soon as possible. If you are assisting someone else, be careful not to come in contact with their blood (blood borne pathogens) and if you do seek prompt medical attention.
Apply direct pressure to the wound and elevate the limb to staunch the bleeding and seek immediate medical attention.
If you spill a hazardous chemical on your hand or arm, wash your hand and/or arm with running water at the closest sink for 15-minutes. If you spill a hazardous chemical on your face and/or a significant portion of your body, go to the nearest safety shower, pull the handle, remove any clothing covering the exposed limbs, and wash the contaminated area thoroughly with water. Seek immediate medical attention.
Use the eyewash fountain to flood your eye(s) with water for 15-minutes. Seek immediate medical attention.
Though the hazards in research laboratories vary widely, there are a number of types of work that present unique hazards that require special training as the hazards may present severe consequences not only to the researcher doing the work but to all those around him/her as well. Some of these hazards which are discussed on the linked webpages include:
Due to the increasingly instrumental nature of laboratory research today, many devices and instruments are electrically powered. Some devices such as lasers, power supplies, and vacuum pumps can pose serious safety hazards even death if used improperly. Consequently, it is critical to obtain training in the proper use of these devices and instruments before you begin to use them in your research.
When operated properly, today's centrifuges are very safe and reliable devices. Some useful general guidelines regarding their proper use follow:
Autoclaves use very hot, pressurized steam to sterilize biological samples and materials. Consequently, they present several different potentially serious hazards to users including scalding, biohazard contamination, and explosions. Therefore, it is very important to obtain safety training before using an autoclave in your research. Useful general guidelines for use of an autoclave follow:
Compressed gases are gases stored under pressure in a metal cylinder. Small cylinders are often referred to as lecture bottles. The pressure of a gas in a cylinder is typically expressed in kilopascal or pounds per square inch (psig).
There are three kinds of compressed gases:
Liquified gases are gases that become liquids at room temperature when compressed at high pressure in a cylinder. Carbon dioxide is an example of a commonly used liquefied gas.
Non-liquified gases are gases that remain gases at room temperature even at high pressure. Examples of frequently used non-liquified gases are nitrogen, argon, and oxygen.
Dissolved gases are gases that are dissolved in a volatile solvent in order to stabilize them. Acetylene is a good example of a dissolved gas. It is usually dissolved in acetone.
Compressed gases present a wide range of significant potential safety hazards. Some compressed gases such as hydrogen chloride or ammonia are highly corrosive. Others such as hydrogen or acetylene are highly reactive and/or flammable. Even inert gases such as nitrogen can be dangerous because in confined areas their rapid release may displace enough oxygen causing loss of consciousness and asphyxiation. Research and know the chemical and toxicological properties and safety precautions before working with any compressed gas. Be sure to consult your Office of Environmental Health and Safety in advance concerning the correct handling and storage procedures peculiar to the gas with which you will work.
Tanks are color coded to facilitate ready identification of gas contents. However, you should never rely on the tank color for identification as the color coding is not standardized and may vary from supplier to supplier. Always read the label on the tank before use. Do not attempt to use a gas tank which does not have a written label of identification for any reason.
Regulators are gas specific. Be sure to use the proper regulator for the gas tank you are using. The regulator should be securely attached to the tank using a crescent wrench. The threading on the regulator should never be wrapped with Teflon tape. This is particularly important in the case of oxidizing gases due to concern regarding flammability but it is forbidden in general with any type of gas because small pieces of teflon could get caught int the regulator potentially causing a failure. Two stage regulators are commonly used in most laboratories when working with compressed gases. The gauge closest to the tank itself is the main gauge. This gauge provides a reading of the total pressure of the gas in the tank. The primary stage should be kept closed whenever the gas tank is not actually in use - never leave a gas cylinder that is use unattended. The second stage allows careful control and release of a lower constant pressure of gas. The reading on the second gauge provides an indication of the actual pressure of the gas being released from the tank. Note that when the gauge reads zero, there is still likely some gas present in the tank.
Cylinders containing flammable and/or reactive gases should be stored and used in well-ventilated areas and should never be operated in the vicinity of open flames or electrical devices capable of sparking. The regulators on these cylinders should be regularly inspected for leaks using snoop or gas leak detectors.
Cylinders and lecture bottles should always be secured using sturdy metal chains and/or straps to a wall or a cart to prevent their falling over.
Gas cylinders should always be transported using an appropriate wheeled gas transport cart. Gas cylinders should never be rolled, spun, twirled, or dragged. Before transportation, the gas regulator should always be removed. The main valve on the tank should be completely closed and the cap should be screwed on the tank. A minimum number of gas tanks should be transported using the cart at any one time.
Lasers produce intense focused monochromatic beams of light in the ultraviolet, visible, or infrared spectral range. Lasers present three potential kinds of hazards: photochemical, electrical, and chemical. Unprotected laser exposure can cause serious and permanent damage to the skin and the delicate tissue of eyes. So, users should wear laser safety goggles when working with lasers. The power sources for lasers also present a significant electrical hazard. Users should use due caution when working around laser power supplies. Use one hand and make sure your hands are dry and that you are not standing in water when working around the laser power supply. Some lasers present chemical hazards to users as well. The organic dyes such as Rhodamine 6G circulated in dye lasers are carcinogenic or mutagenic and should be handled only with protective gloves.
Hazardous chemical waste including solvents, acids, and reagents should never be disposed of down sewer drains. Waste must be separated based on chemical compatibility in order to avoid violent reactions and disposed of in the proper waste containers following the practices described by the Office of Environmental Health and Safety at your academic or industrial workplace.
On the linked webpages, we will examine some of the important issues specific to waste disposal of the following types of materials/reagents:
Chemical waste disposal is an increasingly expensive problem for all workplaces using chemical reagents. All chemical waste must be identified properly before it can be disposed. Depending on the volume, toxicity, and/or reactivity of the reagents you wish to dispose of, proper disposal may be very expensive so it is important that you make a conscious effort to order the absolute minimum amount of the reagents that you need and use the minimum amount needed in order to carry out your experiments. If practical, think about how you might reclaim by distillation and/or precipitation your reagents and solvents and thereby minimize the amount of waste you generate in your work.
Bottles containing chemical waste must be properly labeled. Labeling should include the words "hazardous waste." The label should also include the names and relative amounts of the major chemical reagents and/or solvents and the date that the bottle was filled. Be sure to write out all chemical names - do not use chemical formula like "H2O" or abbreviations such as "ACN" or "DMF." Do not put a date on the bottle until it is completely filled and ready for pickup.
Chemical waste should be disposed of in glass or polyethylene bottles. Plastic coated glass bottles are best for this purpose. Aluminum cans which are easily corroded should not be used for waste disposal and storage. In some laboratories, workers recycle solvent bottles and use them for chemical waste storage and disposal. If your laboratory does this, be sure to completely fill and empty the solvent bottle a minimum of three times before using it for waste and be sure to completely remove or deface the bottle's label. Waste bottles that are in use should be placed in a secondary container such as a plastic tub, preferably inside the hood. This location should be clearly marked with a sign indicating that it is the "Satellite Waste Disposal Area" for your laboratory. Before adding waste to a waste bottle, inspect the waste bottle label and make sure that the materials you are adding are compatible with the bottle's contents. For example, don't mix organics and acids. If you are in doubt, start a new waste bottle. Bottles should be capped unless you are in the actual act of adding waste to the waste bottle. If you use a funnel in order to add waste the funnel must be removed when you are finished and the bottle capped.
Don't completely fill a waste bottle. Always leave at least one inch at the top of the container. As soon as a waste bottle is completely filled, be sure to put the date on the label and contact your Office of Environmental Health and Safety to schedule a chemical waste pickup. The rules regarding the scheduling of waste pickup are very rigid in most laboratories and filled waste bottles need to be removed from the research laboratory within three days of the date indicated on the waste bottle.
Regard all cultures, blood, and tissue samples, all waste products produced by biological systems, and any materials that come in contact with biological systems as potentially hazardous. Exposure to biohazards can occur by aerosol (inhalation), accidental ingestion, skin or eye contact, and by accidental puncture of the skin (needles).
Waste and any materials contaminated with biohazardous materials must be decontaminated and disposed of as regulated medical waste. This includes all tissue samples, needles, syringes, scalpels, etc. Be sure to contact your Office of Environmental Health and Safety concerning the proper practices associated with the handling and disposal of biohazardous waste.
As appropriate, all contaminated materials and surfaces should be either autoclaved (steam sterilization) or treated with 1:10 (v/v) bleach solution to disinfect.
Disinfected needles, syringes, razor blades and other sharps should then be placed in labeled sharps containers. All other biohazardous waste should be placed in biohazard bags, and then placed inside medical waste boxes. The bags should be labeled in indelible ink with the date, name, location, and phone number of the laboratory supervisor.
Waste from animals and patients should be viewed and treated as potentially infectious biohazardous waste. Animal bedding, carcasses, and human and animal tissue and waste samples should be autoclaved before disposal in the medical waste stream. Be sure to contact your Office of Environmental Health and Safety concerning the proper practices associated with the handling and disposal of biohazardous waste.