Preparing for Lab

We expect you to come to lab prepared for work, particularly with regard to preparing your notebook and yourself, but even preparing your equipment. How long this takes will vary depending on you and the experiment. Here are three useful checklists – Before experimental work begins, Before the actual lab day, and The actual lab day – that explain how to prepare for different lab days.

Unprepared students. Un- and underprepared workers create a hazardous work environment for themselves and other students. Students may be asked to leave the lab if they are excessively late, or if their notebook is not adequately prepared for that day’s work. Repeated instances may result in the student being dismissed from the course.


Before experimental work begins
Before the actual lab day …
The actual lab day…

1. Before experimental work begins…

The first two weeks will emphasize orientation, and learning the what/where/how of our lab. You will not do any actual lab work. Here are the activities currently planned and the things you need to do.

  • Lab notebook preparation. Did you prepare your lab notebook for Exp’t #1? If so, congratulations. You may finish lab early during the first week. We will be working with all lab students on lab notebook preparation during Week 1. You will then be submitting scans of your pre-lab pages for feedback following your first lab session. This means every student should purchase and bring a lab notebook to lab on Week 1.
  • Fire extinguisher training. All students will complete fire extinguisher training during Week 2. You can meet outside at the chemistry loading dock at the start of your lab. Note: even if you have completed this training for other classes or campus jobs, you will need to repeat it for this lab class. No student will be allowed to conduct experiments in the lab until this training is completed.
  • Cabinet assignment + glassware inventory. Every student is assigned a personal cabinet+drawers in the lab. During Week 2 you will receive a checklist of equipment that should be in your cabinet. Please take everything out of your cabinet (and drawers) and put it on your lab bench. Check off items as you put them back in your drawers. Go to the stockroom to obtain any missing items. Ask your instructor how to handle extra items (the things still on your bench after you have checked everything off).
  • Safety orientation + quiz + contract. All students are expected to read the Chemistry 201/202 sections of the Chemistry Laboratory Safety Manual (there is also a link in the Lab Links sidebar). You will then complete a short quiz containing questions about lab safety and operations. You will also submit a signed pdf of the Chemistry 201/202 contract that appears in the manual. Both the quiz and contract are available on the course Moodle. All students must turn in signed contracts and completed quizzes before they can begin actual lab work.

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2. Before the actual lab day …

Most lab days will include experimental work in the lab. Sometimes (example: Weeks #3 and #5) you will begin a brand new experiment. Later in the semester, experiments become longer and more complicated, and you will often continue work from a previous week. Both possibilities are covered below.

Glassware. Most glassware needs to be clean and dry before it can be used. If possible, use the last few minutes of each lab period to check (and maybe clean) glassware that you will need the following week. Leave wet glassware in your cabinet to dry.

Reading. The length of pre-lab reading assignments will vary depending on where we are in the semester (the reading load is heaviest at the start of the semester), and whether you are beginning a new experiment or not.

  • Starting a new experiment. Read the overview and background sections in their entirety. Read the relevant procedure section (usually marked Week 1). Read the safety and disposal sections of the lab manual, and the instructions for performing calculations in the lab manual as needed. Also consult other sources as needed. These include Padias and recommended videos of lab procedures.
  • Continuing an experiment. Identical to Starting…, but you can skip reading the overview and, depending on your previous preparation, most (or all) of the background sections.

Writing. The only writing you ever need to do before lab is the writing that goes in your lab notebook, but this can occasionally require a substantial amount of time, especially at the start of a new (and complicated) experiment. See the Notebooks appendix for full instructions on allowed notebooks and required entries.

  • Starting a new experiment. Begin each experiment on a new, numbered right page (remember to leave pages 1-2 for your Table of Contents). If you have not completed the previous experiment, leave additional right pages for the entries required for that experiment, before beginning your entries for the next experiment. Enter on the right pages the title (here and in the Table of Contents), a chemical equation or materials list, a table of physical properties, and information on hazards and disposal. Enter on the left pages the instructions for performing Week #1 of your experiment (you can enter instructions for subsequent weeks later on). You will not be allowed to consult the lab manual when you are in lab. Also calculate any quantities (usually amounts of reagents) that are needed for your lab work and enter on left pages.
  • Continuing an experiment. Enter on the left pages the instructions for performing the next part of your experiment. Also calculate any quantities that are needed for your lab work and enter on left pages.

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3. The actual lab day …

Clothing. Students who are not dressed properly will not be allowed to engage in lab work.

Health. Eat a good lunch and maybe toss a small snack in your bag. A four-hour chemistry lab can be physically and mentally draining. It is usually okay, even wise, to take a small break sometime. Note: if you are sick and have any reason to think that your illness may be contagious, or if you are incapacitated in some other way, notify your instructor ahead of time (email is fine); we will try to reschedule your lab for another time.

Notebook review (pre-lab, calculations, procedure). Skim through your notebook one more time. Did you make the required pre-lab entries? Did you enter information properly on RIGHT and LEFT-hand pages? Did you do the necessary calculations? What are you going to do and why? What does each apparatus look like? What safety warnings and disposal instructions apply to your lab work? (see Padias p. 1-4 for helpful tips)

Grab something to write with. Waterproof pens are the gold standard and are required. Pencil and water-soluble inks are unacceptable.

Be on time. Better yet, arrive 5-10 minutes early. Drop your belongings in the alcove. Put on your lab coat. Get out your lab notebook. Be ready to roll at the start of lab.

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