Where do all the supervillains shop?
January 15, 2010 11:33 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to outfit my organization with a tiny science lab, but don't know everything I'll need or where to buy it!

I'm semi-teaching a course that starts next week in which we're planning to do some science-y things. Heat stuff up, cool stuff down, make some water boil - nothing too fancy yet. I'm looking for some bunsen burners (hot plates?), test tubes, general borosilicate glass materials, and hopefully some of those spiraly tubes to help with a steam distillation project. But what else does a burgeoning will-end-up-doing-fun-laboratory-stuff-sometimes organization need to make sure it's well outfitted for the future?

Also: where should I be buying it from? Mefi seems to be really keen on American Science and Surplus, but most of those answers come from "I want to buy a fun science thing for my friend" questions instead of "I want to buy real science things" questions.

Brick & mortar stores in NYC would be great, this is a situation where I'd love to leave with a lot of impulse buys. Letting me know what (if any) of this stuff is available anywhere else (restaurant supply stores?) would also be keen.
posted by soma lkzx to Shopping (8 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: VWR and Fisher are the big names here, kind of like the Wal-Mart and Target of scientific supply. You can get anything you need there, although for the distillation apparatus, you might go look at Chemglass.

Used equipment you can get from outfits like Alliance Analytical (I've bought stuff from them and it's all been good so far.)
posted by u2604ab at 11:52 AM on January 15, 2010

Best answer: Do you have a university nearby? They usually have "surplus" centers where old equipment goes to get redistributed (furniture too, not just science stuff). Our university will occasionally have surplus sales that are open to the public. Check their websites. You can get used equipment, glassware, bunsen burners, etc.

Failing that, ebay often has these things!
posted by Knowyournuts at 12:01 PM on January 15, 2010

VWR might be a good place for you to set up an account. Their company, as well as other competing suppliers, frequently have "new lab setup" or "new funding" promotions, so that's definitely worth looking into. For common chemicals, I typically go to Sigma or Fisher Scientific.

Keep in mind that you will need a Fire Department permit to store hazardous chemicals (even ethanol is considered hazardous, and needs to be kept in an approved fireproof cabinet). Most states' Departments of Health have pretty rigorous certification procedures if you plan on doing any biological experiments, even for educational labs. You also will need to arrange for eye washes and emergency showers in your facility, in addition to fire extinguishers, etc.
posted by halogen at 12:07 PM on January 15, 2010

Ditto what halogen says about safety and regulations.

Also, many of the items on this list may be useful to you:

Hotplate/Stir plate
pH meter
Bunsen burner
Tripod with wire gauze (for the bunsen burner)
Carboy (for water or large amounts of buffer)
Pipetman and disposable plastic tips
Tube racks and various sizes of tubes
Ice buckets (styrofoam is fine but there are fancier ones)
Spatulas for measuring and weighing chemicals
Scale for weighing chemicals
Graduated cylinder, glass, for corrosive liquids
Graduated cylinders, plastic, for general use
Magnetic stir bars
Erlenmeyer flasks, several sizes
Glassware, misc.
Ice machine, flaked
Water bath with adjustable temperature
Centrifuge, swing-bucket rotor
Spectrophotometer (pricey but there are cheap old ones that don't need to be hooked up to computers)
Slides and coverslips
Monocular or binocular light microscope
Pipet aid and glass pipets
Various disposable glass and plasticware
Chemicals for making buffers

A lot depends on what you want to do - isolate DNA? Look at cells?
posted by Knowyournuts at 12:16 PM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: A lot depends on what you want to do - isolate DNA? Look at cells?

We really don't know, probably nothing very impressive. It's for this thing here, where you basically get a bunch of people together who want to learn something and everyone learns it together. I needed to buy plenty of lab equipment for a class about scents (to do distillation), so I figured I might as well grab some other stuff while I'm at it.

So, in summary: no real aim. Just looking for possibilities that we can build off of.
posted by soma lkzx at 1:28 PM on January 15, 2010

Best answer: The thing about VWR and FisherSci (and Cole Parmer, the third biggie) is that they charge very high prices for a) very high quality product and b) delivery as soon as possible. It's not possible to get bargains from them unless you spend dumptruckfulls of dollars a year on lab equipment (I work for an organization that does, and we get about 10% off list). I think you're much better off looking for a science surplus store.

A S&S does sell real glassware, for about 50% of what Fisher Scientific wants, for example. Many of the items on Knowyournuts' list could be had this way.

More complicated stuff may be a problem. Stuff like distillation kits cost huge amounts of money. The cheapest still I can find on Fisher is about $1000 for everything, but that's in glass. Stills and such, however, also attract the attention of the authorities unless you can demonstrate a clear non-moonshine/non-illegal drug lab need for it. Not to say you can't, just to warn you that it may be a hassle to deal with suppliers and that the more paperwork you can show them, the easier things will go. That said, with a little creativity, it's fairly easy and cheap to make a still yourself.
posted by bonehead at 2:05 PM on January 15, 2010

Best answer: Science doesn't require official equipment. There are instructions out there where you run an electrophoresis gel using a gel tank made of Lego bricks. For the price of the gel tank I bought last year for work you could get a whole fleet of Millenium Falcons.

My group at work is going to buy a cell counter some time in the not too distant future for about what I paid for my car. You could make one with a medium quality microscope, the stepper motors out of an old printer, and some software you've already paid for. (You'd have to write to code to drive the stepper motors that you're scrounging out of the printer yourself.)

If you're looking for glassware, check out Ebay. The magic phrase is "Ground Glass Kit". But remember, GOD ONLY KNOWS WHERE IT'S BEEN OR WHAT IT'S BEEN USED FOR!

The one issue to remember - the reason scientists use Pyrex is because it doesn't suffer heat shock the way normal glass does. If temperatures never change fast then baby food jars will be fine. (And don't think you can't break pyrex with thermal shock.)

Supervillains buy everything through a front organization, like a corporation they have taken over from the inside. Uh, don't ask me how I know that.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:41 PM on January 15, 2010

If you're interested in biological stuff, it would be worth looking at the educational suppliers like Carolina Biological Supply (if there's a group of you who'll be doning the same thing, some of their Biotech Kits might be fun).

Do you have gas taps that you can attach a bunsen burner to? If not, you want a hot-plate or spirit burner instead.
posted by James Scott-Brown at 8:49 AM on January 16, 2010

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