Did you know the sort of beakers you’d find in the most meticulous and productive of scientific laboratories are pretty much perfect in the kitchen, too? The secret is the borosilicate glass, whose main property – the presence of boron trioxide – makes thermal expansion very difficult. In other words, microwave and dishwasher-safe! Similarly, acids won’t degrade it, chemicals won’t seep in, boiling liquids won’t make it crack, UV light won’t damage it, and as long as the sulphuric acid is washed out particularly well, there’s no safer material to drink from – with extra help coming from that handy pouring ‘beak’!
In fact, you wouldn’t be too wide of the mark to conclude that a beaker is not just conspicuously versatile laboratory glassware – it’s perhaps the most versatile of all the liquid-holding containers on planet earth. And for that, we have the basic beaker features to thank:
1. The ‘beak’
Given that a beaker can be relied upon to hold even some of the most dangerous chemicals and substances on earth, the spout – or ‘beak’ – is a critical element to make pouring easy and safe, especially in conjunction with the distinctive and thick top rim. However, although many people call it the ‘beak’, the word beaker actually has ancient Greek origins – with the word ‘bikos’ meaning ‘earthenware jug’.
2. The borosilicate glass
Although beakers can be made of other materials, the typical ones you’ll find in a decent lab will almost certainly be made of borosilicate glass. Without getting too technical, it’s a combination of silica, boric oxide and other oxides, with boron oxide binding the glass materials tightly together. The result is a material with:
- Low thermal expansion
- High material strength
- Chemical & non-corrosive stability.
3. The graduated markings
Take a look at a beaker and you’ll find graduated markings, denoting the volume levels. A 250ml beaker, however, will only typically be marked with large 50ml increments – and for good reason. While a graduated or measuring cylinder is the lab glassware of choice for measuring volume, beakers usually only guarantee accuracy to plus or minus 10% or so. Therefore, beakers should be used more for estimating volumes or as part of measurement tests rather than as standalone measuring devices.
4. The shape
Beakers are almost always wide and cylindrical, with a flat bottom and straight sides from top to bottom. It’s that shape that has proved so helpful for providing a stable platform for the majority of surface types, including hot plates and over Bunsen burners, in order to do what beakers do best – mixing, stirring, heating, storing, decanting and heating liquids.
So while the beaker is most comfortable at work in the lab, the possible applications are actually as vast as one’s creative imagination. Better still, there are multiple basic beaker types and just about every size you can think of in the impressive range, so to ensure you match your organisation’s needs and budget with the precise products you are seeking, get in touch with our friendly industry guides.