If you are a budding scientist, you may want to invest in a chemistry lab at home – a place where you can experiment with chemical reactions to your heart’s content. Maybe a whole laboratory in your household is a little ambitious, but there are science kits available – for kids and for adults – which can turn anybody into an amateur chemist!
But before you go and buy anything, have a look at this list of the essential lab equipment you will need to turn your kitchen into a place to cook up science experiments!
Brush up with our Chemistry glossary here.
Firstly, you can’t do anything at all to do with chemistry without test tubes. Not only are they the iconic tool of chemistry experiment, but they are specially designed and shaped to make your dealings with chemical reactions easier. They won’t break if you heat them, or corrode if you fill them with acids or dangerous elements, and they are super easy to clean, store, and look into (that’s why scientists use them!).
If you want some test tubes, however, you will probably need a test tube rack – so that your substances and solutions don’t flow all over your table! You may also want to think about boiling tubes, which are a bigger variety of test tube ideal for heating up liquids.
Proper test tubes in action.
Chemistry is full of flasks, different bits of glassware in which to dissolve and observe your solutions. Whilst they are not all necessary for your chemistry kits – because there are potentially hundreds of different specialty items – there are few from which your set might benefit.
The beaker is used for measuring liquids, as it comes with measurements on the side and a spout (or a ‘beak’!) for pouring.
The conical flask – or the Erlenmeyer flask – is recognisable by its inward-sloping sides. Its shape is designed with two things in mind. You can swirl the solution without having to stir it and without risking spillage. The shape of the flask makes it ideal for boiling liquids, as the wide base and the tapered sides allow the condensation of vapours along the side!
A burette is the fancy name for a test tube with a tap at one end. It is graduated too – meaning that the liquid measurements are written on the side. These two things allow for the very precise release of solutions – something you will need if you are hoping to take your chemistry experiments to the next level!
Imagine a teeny tiny plastic test tube which, when you squeeze it, it takes in liquid. It is primarily used for transferring liquids from one test tube to the next.
More classically known for its use in biology – for growing and studying bacteria – petri dishes are also used by chemists to hold crystals. The glass ones are a bit better than the plastic ones, but both can be used by a home chemist!
Any idea what was discovered in a petri dish? Find out in our piece on chemistry discoveries!
A petri dish is essential not just for a chemistry kit, but for biology too!
Whilst you might have all your fun things ready to go, you shouldn’t really be starting anything with chemicals, acids, or bases without the proper safety equipment. Goggles for eye protection and chemical-resistant gloves for your hands are absolutely essential.
Some of the things with which you might be working can be dangerous. Even if not, it’s not nice to get them on your hands – and it’s always fun to pretend to be a mad scientist!
If you are fiddling around with your experiments, how do you expect to have enough hands to hold everything? This is precisely what the boss and clamp are for. The boss is a weighted standing shaft, to which you can clamp anything you don’t always need to hold.
Think about a burette. If you are dripping solution into another solution, you can attach it to the boss, and all good! It is safer, easier, and every proper scientist uses one.
So, what’s going on with that experiment of yours? Is it hot or cold? At what temperature does a certain chemical react with another, and at what temperature does it change state, from solid to liquid to gas? How are you going to know anything about the temperature of your experiment without a thermometer?
This little piece of kit is really important if you are going to do anything of any interest with your chemistry equipment at home, and it is a must-have if you are seeking to understand anything too! Chemicals behave very differently at different temperatures – so make sure you get it right!
What about chemistry tutors? They’re there to make sure you get it right!
You can’t do anything without a thermometer!
In that test tube of yours, you have a solution. But what is it, and how are you supposed to find out?
If you have any interest in knowing about acids and bases – a fairly fundamental part of chemistry! – you will need to have some litmus paper. This usually comes in strips of either red or blue, and they show you how acidic or alkali your solution is. If the blue bit turns red, you have an acid; if the red turns blue, you have an alkali; if the whole thing goes purple, it’s neutral!
There’s a couple of rad facts about acids and alkalis, which we’re ready to bet you didn’t know, in our piece on cool facts about chemistry!
Every classroom laboratory has one. And you’re not going to understand anything that is going on in your chemistry experiments without one. This is the periodic table, the table of the elements, the chart that tells you exactly what each element is, what it is like, and what it can react with – as long as you know how to read it!
The periodic table is arranged by atomic number – or the number of protons in the nucleus of each atom – and by the reactivity of each element. This table will show you precisely why fluorine and caesium are so reactive and will help you understand what happens when two different elements react.
Whilst the periodic table can show you in numerical terms what is going on in a given atom, molecular models offer a practical way to understand how molecules and compounds are formed. For an explanation of precisely this, see our pieces on basic chemistry concepts or the essential chemistry terminology!
If you buy them, they are usually made of plastic, and come with balls (representing atoms) and sticks (representing chemical bonds). The joy of these models is that you can build any molecule you want and actually see what is going on at a chemical level in your test tube.
You can even make your own. Just get some little different coloured balls and some string or straws – and make all the molecules you could possibly want!
Honestly, this probably isn’t going to be something you will need at home – although we all can dream!
The Bunsen burner is a tool that produces a very clean and clear flame from gas, and it is super useful in heating up solutions, burning elements for oxidisation, and seeing how substances react to heat.
However, the problem is that they need to be connected to the gas mains – and if you are a kid, your parents might not really trust you to use that (although, if you are an adult, your neighbours might not trust you either)! They can be a little tricky to have installed at home.
If you are serious, however, and if you are a very ambitious scientist, then go for it! No science experiment is complete without a Bunsen!
Any idea why it’s called a Bunsen burner? Check out piece on the world’s incredible chemists to find out.
If you are using a Bunsen, you’ve got to remember one fairly obvious thing: stuff gets really hot when you put it over a flame!
This is what a tripod and gauze are for: the tripod sits neatly over the Bunsen burner, and things – such as a conical flask – can be placed upon it in order to be heated up without you touching them; the gauze sits beneath the flask and spreads out the heat, so the whole thing warms up evenly!
Anything more you want to know about chemistry? We’re sure you’ll find it in our guide to everything you need to study chemistry!