Best Practices in the Lab

In addition to specific safety requirements – given in your lab manual and by your lab instructor – there are some general best practices you should keep in mind while working in the laboratory:

Check Out the Procedure Early

You’ll have more success with your experiments (and finish more quickly!) if you set aside some time to read through the experiment and prepare yourself before lab. Some suggestions:

  • Start a couple days before lab, so you have time to ask questions – and get answers! – before your class time.
  • Try rewriting or summarizing the procedure in your own words. Making a flowchart, or set of annotated data tables is one way to do this (it also gives you a space to organize and record your data).
  • If your class has a pre-lab assignment or quiz, make sure to start it a couple days before lab, too. If you run into a problem, it helps if there’s time to fix it!

Prepare Your Body

Arrive dressed appropriately for lab (full coverage shoes, tall socks, hole-free pants, lab coat, and safety glasses). If you are working with flammable materials or have issues with static electricity, natural fibers – cotton, linen, hemp, or wool – are your best choice.

Also plan ahead to eat a meal and get a full night’s sleep before your lab. It sounds basic, but the most common “injury” in chem labs is fainting (usually from low blood sugar or fatigue). If this is a challenge for you right now, the SU Wellness Centre and Campus Food Bank have resources to help.

Keep a Tidy Workspace

A small amount of time in lab spent keeping your bench tidy can help avoid spills and mistakes (for example adding the wrong reagent from an unlabeled container). Some suggestions:

  • Clean up spills – even just a drop – as soon as they happen.
  • Label everything. Sharpie markers are provided, or even putting your beaker on a labelled paper towel is better than nothing. (writing on the glass is best, in case you don’t put your beaker back on the paper towel though!)
  • Put lids on any containers that have them (flasks, reagent bottles, etc). This prevents spills and contamination from entering your container.
  • Keep items you’re not using to the back of your bench, and build a clear space to work near the front.
  • Dispose of any chemicals or solutions you’re not using right away.
    • One exception: If you’re working on a lab with a non-replaceable “unknown” for analysis, you may want to keep any solutions made from it right till the end, just in case. (already-analyzed samples are safe to dispose).

Ask When You Need Help

In the lab, your teaching assistant is there to help you. If you are unsure of a step, feel free to ask for assistance or clarification – especially if doing the step wrong could create a safety hazard (like disposing a chemical).

Keep in mind that your TA will have 15-25 other students in lab too: if you’ve properly prepared before lab, you should be able to ask questions in advance so that you aren’t held up waiting for your TA to answer in lab for most questions.

Your course instructor can also answer most questions about lab while you’re preparing – email, use the class discussion board, or visit office hours while you’re getting ready for your next lab.