A Better Way to Organize Laboratory Equipment

organizing laboratory equipment

I remember sitting in on Steve Sogo’s presentation at a recent conference and watching the video that accompanied his talk. As I watched the video, I saw something that didn’t necessarily have to do with the talk but had caught my eye. I noticed that certain laboratory glassware and equipment that was being shown while interviewing his students had been marked with colored tape and numbers. When I asked Steve about my observation he confirmed my observation and mentioned that this was the way that he kept his glassware and equipment organized for each of his different lab groups. I thought what a great idea.

    Fig. 1 - taken from Steve’s Youtube video: Benzoic Acid Lab 

Now, I am sure I am not alone when I say it is frustrating when you have your students ready to start the lab and you have lab groups that are missing certain pieces of lab equipment from their lab drawers.  When your time in lab is limited to the time you have in class, then every minute is important. So I decided to take the time and to do some needed inventory.  I wanted to match equipment to its designated table.  Next, I wanted to make sure that each of my eight lab tables had the proper equipment needed to eliminate no more missing equipment.  Sure enough, as I began the inventory project, I had several tables missing equipment, so once everything was laid out and counted and organized then I had to make sure it was going to stay that way.  I had several rolls of colored tape and it was easy to then begin marking each of the pieces of equipment and glassware with tape.  Now a word of caution, don’t tape anything that will be directly heated.  As an example, the clay triangle and the crucible should not be taped.  However, the tops of beakers, graduated cylinders, and Erlenmeyer flasks, the bottom of Bunsen burners, and ring stands can all be marked.  Next, I placed a small piece of tape around the center faucet to designate the matching equipment to that table.  Also, I’m not concerned with the tape coming off as the equipment gets washed.  Overall, it didn’t really take that much time to tape everything once it was all set out.  On the plus side, by doing the inventory, I hope to move from four person lab groups to two person lab groups.  With four person lab groups, I was starting to see an increase in observers and a decrease in workers which led me to wonder how much learning was taking place in the lab. This is just my attempt to trying to keep things better organized in my lab which in return will help with safety as less students will have to move around the lab searching for equipment.  How do you keep your studnets laboratory equipment organized? If you have any other questions or further suggestions then please feel free to share. Thanks again to Steve Sogo for the idea.

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Comments 3

Tracy Schloemer's picture
Tracy Schloemer | Thu, 06/29/2017 - 20:01

I like this a lot! With a similar luxury of cabinets for each lab station, I made a visual inventory for easy replacement when things go missing or get broken (see attached document)

. This also makes it easy for end of year inventory (well, for each station- still more work for everything else)- feels like a potential complement to your system! It appears that you had things in drawers as well, but for me, I feel like the pictures made a ton of difference (versus just labels).

Doug Ragan's picture
Doug Ragan | Sat, 07/01/2017 - 15:19


    Thanks for comments and love the visual doc for inventory.  Thanks again for the great idea.

Joseph Lomax's picture
Joseph Lomax | Mon, 07/03/2017 - 07:59

This is an excellent method.   We have found in our advanced labs that having sets of glassware for each student rather than a breakage card reduces breakage to close to nothing.  14 years ago we renovated with this in mind and got glassware enough for what we expected would be a few years of breakage, yet breakage was so low when people were responsible for their own glassware and because we moved the glassware less, at 14 years we have not used up our original stash.

One thing we did notice, however, is that their are two sets of miscreants WRT glassware: the Careless and the Packrats.  Curiously, both see themselves as virtuous.  The Careless do not think they should bother with anything unless they need it.  So if you give them two nests of beakers and they only use one set, they will dirty one set and carelessly leave it to be cleaned by someone else.  The Careless clean when necessary, and as they do what is necessary, they are virtuous in their eyes.  

The Packrats see the dirty glassware, and rather than leave it there, they clean it and put it in their drawer.  First, they feel they deserve to keep it in their drawer because they cleaned it, and second, they feel a bit more secure with a third nest of beakers than with just two.  The Packrats are even more secure in their virtue than the Careless and will argue about how virtuous they are.  

As an instructor, it is difficult to change the habits of the Careless with the Packrats around because the dirty glassware keeps disappearing.  Changing the habits of the Packrats is very difficult, but a sentence that helps somewhat is, "If it isn't yours, don't touch it."  (This sentence is very useful in interpersonal relationships as well.)  

The final instance of the Careless vs. Packrat co-dependant pathology is the final checkout of the semester.  The use of colored tape by Doug Ragan reminded me of this.  We had a very difficult time of people poaching drawers that were complete by the Careless (for the most part).  The Packrats were usually first to be ready to check out, but often they still had their extras in their drawer, presumably gifting their largesse to the next semester.  The excess was placed in a central spot for the Careless to find, and the properly complete drawer was closed and tape was put across the end as a type of seal.  

The seals kept us from having to recheck the drawers, and the excess pile sped the redistribution.  Who knew that equipment drawers held such an illustration of the shadowy human nature.