A couple of questions. Why would you want to spend your supply budget on propane tanks? Piped natural gas is a utility and would be paid for by the university like electricity and water. If you use tanks (which I did have to use at one school and I considered them a pain in the backside), you need to purchase them. Maybe you don’t have any budgetary problems, but that may not always be the case. Also, they have to be stored safely. According to the number of students (tanks) you have, this could be more than just an inconvenience. Also, why do you want to limit your options? I see no reason not to have natural gas piped in.
Now to the academic side. A couple of years ago someone who worked in industry opined that they didn’t see any reason to ever use a Bunsen burner in academic labs. Several people responded
with a recitation of the numerous experiments which required a localized heat source, i. e., flame. These experiments are used to help the students understand basic principles and work very well at doing so. When you have to worry about “buying and storing”
your heat source you are more likely to opt for a less effective experiment.
One of our duties as chemistry educators is to teach students techniques, including how to use different pieces of equipment. Sometimes that equipment is an instrument such as an IR, but sometimes it’s a Bunsen burner. As one responder wrote, since they had no gas in the general labs they’re student didn’t learn how to use a Bunsen burner till they were juniors. They first chemistry courses are often required for majors other than chemistry. The students in these courses are expected to learn lab techniques, such as using a burner, they can use in their discipline. You never know where you students are going to be working and what equipment they will be using. You need to prepare them as best you can.
With regard to safety, please do not consider alcohol burners for general use. They can be VERY dangerous if used incorrectly. There may be limited uses for them by experienced experimenters, but not by a lab full of inexperienced students. Some may say that hot plates are safer than burners, but that’s not necessarily true. The only burns we’ve had in years have been from hot plates. People are instinctively a bit afraid of open flames so they tend to be more careful around them.
Overall, why limit you options.
Thank you all. Your comments are, as always, very helpful.
While reading them I have come up with a theory. See if this has any merit and feel free to send comments (even if you think it’s crazy!) J
Thinking back to my early days in chemistry I remembered that benches had plumbed natural gas so they could provide a “continuous” supply of gas. That “continuous” supply would be the only advantage over a source of heat say from a propane torch or an alcohol lamp.
These temporary devices can be used for sealing an ampule or bending an occasional piece of glass or even sterilizing an inoculating loop.
Then I asked myself why was there a need for a “continuous” gas supply? Other than an instrument flame, or bending or polishing glass it was used so we could heat or boil chemical solutions on the lab bench (before we students had instructional fume hoods of course).
Certainly, heating solutions today would be performed in fume hoods so the need for a “continuous” supply of gas at the benches diminished.
Today, bench installations with these gas taps now should probably be restricted to non-chemical use and monitored, otherwise the temptation still exists to put a beaker on a Bunsen burner and perform operations that should really be performed in a fume hood.
Make sense? Your thoughts?
Christopher E. Kohler
Laboratory Safety Manager
University Environmental Health and Safety
1514 E Third Street
Bloomington, IN 47405
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