Chemistry is the study of matter, and it really does matter. More than 80,000 Americans are chemists. They devise new medications to treat a range of ailments, and they explore new ways to clean and care for homes.
Many of these chemists work in a chemistry lab. Labs have their own hierarchies, with senior chemists overseeing the lab’s operations.
Running a lab is a serious responsibility. You need to ensure your chemists’ safety, provide the resources they need, and turn a profit.
But don’t panic. You can learn the essentials of these skills in just a few minutes. Here is your guide.
1. Apply for Grants
Running a chemistry lab isn’t cheap. You must factor in utility costs, labor expenses, and the prices of your supplies. This can total thousands of dollars per year.
If you are taking over your lab from someone else, get their budgeting information. Get a sense of what your lab’s financial picture is like. See how they allocate resources and what you can do to save money.
Then apply for any grants or loans that you can. The American Chemical Society offers more than 20 million dollars in grants each year.
Take time preparing an application. You need to know what projects you will be performing and who will be working on those projects. Any mistakes may lead to your application being declined.
2. Make a Comprehensive Safety Plan
A chemistry lab poses many different dangers. Chemicals can burn or produce noxious gases. Glass can fall and cut someone.
Plot out every possible scenario that can threaten someone’s safety. Then devise ways of responding to each one.
Put your plan into writing and print out multiple copies. You should keep one for your personal records. Examine your plan every few months and make adjustments as you see fit.
Do not allow people who are sick into your lab. Your lab is an enclosed environment, meaning viruses and bacteria can spread easily. One trainee’s cold will likely infect everyone else.
Do not allow people who are sleep deprived in. Sleep deprivation decreases memory and hand-eye coordination, which can lead to an accident.
3. Communicate All Necessary Measures
A safety plan will not work if someone is not aware of it. Before anyone steps foot in your lab, talk about safety with them. Make sure they know what happens if a fire or medical emergency occurs.
If you have time, conduct tests. Give people who will enter your laboratory your safety plan.
Then hand out a written test to evaluate their knowledge on it. Allow the ones who passed to enter your lab. The ones that fail should study the material and then re-take the test.
Keep at least one copy of your safety plan in a common area. You should also hang a poster that illustrates emergency responses.
4. Use Protective Equipment
Personal protective equipment is absolutely essential. No one should be allowed into your room without wearing the proper gear.
Lab coats, goggles, and gloves are important to every lab. If your lab will use loud equipment, you should require ear protection. Sounds above 70 dB can cause hearing loss, and that includes nearly all pieces of heavy equipment.
If people will be leaning close to objects, you can also require face shields. This will keep acids from splashing onto their cheeks or noses.
If you are running a professional or graduate-level lab, you can ask the people who use it to bring their own equipment. But you should provide spares. Their equipment may break.
5. Dress Appropriately
All people should wear shoes that cover their toes. Flip-flops and sandals should not be allowed.
People with long hair should tie their hair back behind their heads. No one should wear necklaces or dangling clothes. No one should wear shorts, T-shirts, or clothing that exposes a large amount of skin.
Watches and wristbands should also not be allowed. Though watches are useful, they may get stuck to tools. Place a clock along the front wall so people in your lab can follow the time.
As the manager of the lab, you must set an example for everyone who enters. You should dress in formal attire with protective equipment on.
6. Get Steady Supplies
Plan out how many supplies you need and when. Then make sure you have a surplus of what you need ahead of time.
Shop around to different suppliers and find the best rates and fastest delivery times. Stick with the one you purchase from unless you run into a major problem. The longer you stay with a supplier, the more likely they are to offer you a deal or expedited services.
Buy SARMs and narcotics several months in advance. These are controversial substances that the government closely regulates.
You can buy some supplies from outside the country. You may be able to find cheaper rates. But it will take longer to ship those supplies to you, so factor that into your schedule.
You should have more than enough first-aid supplies. Have at least two first-aid kits on hand, including one close to workstations.
7. Have Reference Materials on Hand
Even experienced professionals forget the basics. Keep reference materials in your lab for you and others to review.
Hang up the periodic table close to at least one workstation. Make sure the text is big enough that people can read it.
Keep a couple of textbooks. Refer to it when you are advising or supervising the works of a junior scientist. Feel free to lend your materials to them so they can study on their own time.
8. Incorporate Multimedia
Your lab should have multimedia tools in it. If it doesn’t already, install a projector with a sound system. This will allow you to broadcast images and give instructions from another part of the room.
Encourage the people who use your lab to study Internet materials like YouTube videos. Spend some time finding materials you like, then share them. They should study chemistry at home so they can bring new concepts into the lab.
9. Label Dangerous Materials Properly
Any hazardous materials in your lab should receive labels. Follow all OSHA guidelines for labels and pictograms.
In your safety plan, you should provide a guide to what each label means. But do not assume that people know them. Write notes on what is inside each container and select labels with text that describes them.
Avoid using handwritten labels. Someone may misread your handwriting. Type out everything you write and place it on a surface that is readable from a distance.
If you are storing materials on shelves or in drawers, label those places. Make the labels obvious, using black ink on white paper.
If you have non-English speaking users, make sure to include labels in their language. You can place them underneath your English signage.
10. Maintain Storage Facilities in Your Chemistry Lab
Shelves and drawers are important storage tools. You should have both. Use shelves for large containers, and use drawers for smaller objects like calculators.
But you should also have refrigerators. Most chemicals and nearly all biological agents require refrigeration.
You should be diligent with your refrigeration. Make sure that they are at the correct temperatures. Ensure that a steady supply of electricity goes to them, even if there is a power outage.
Clean the surfaces of your refrigerators every week. If you notice mold, remove it right away.
If you believe that a container has leaked, shut your lab down. Call in additional help and examine if there is a leak. Get to the bottom of what caused it and clean your entire lab.
Check your disposal services as well. Make sure hazardous materials are thrown away without endangering someone else. Never throw things that might be hazardous in a waste bin.
11. Make Do With What You Have
There will come a time where you can’t get a shipment of important supplies. A staffer may call in sick, or an experiment may not go the way you want.
Don’t panic. Learn to improvise and utilize the resources at your disposal.
If you don’t have a necessary supply, switch your current project with a later one that you can do. Communicate with your staffers and clients to let them know what is going on. Then get back to work.
Train your staffers so they can fill in for others. If someone needs a little more oversight, watch over them.
If an experiment fails, make a note of that. Most experiments fail through no fault of the scientists. You can write a paper on what went wrong and what future steps chemists can take.
12. Come Up With Creative Projects
The best chemists think outside the box. Chemists in China discovered that novel compounds can block amyloids, which are proteins that cause Alzheimer’s disease.
They observed that other chemists let their compounds bind to enzymes. They decided to see what would happen if the compounds stick to the proteins instead, and they found strong effects.
Take stock of what other chemists are doing. Then ask yourself what you could do differently. Develop a hypothesis, then do more research about experiments you could run.
A great way to find new ideas is to combine your projects with others. If an artist has a project that requires chemistry skills, consider offering your expertise. Allow them to use your lab and talk to your staffers.
13. Be Consistent in What You Do
You should never make exceptions when it comes to safety. Trained professionals make many mistakes. It is only by adhering to procedures that you can avoid those errors.
Store your items in the same locations every time. If you place chemicals out in the open, you increase the risk of a spill or mistake.
Adopt a consistent work schedule for yourself and others. Changing hours reduces your ability to provide oversight.
Stick to the scientific method. You should experiment and be creative, but you should not lie and bend facts. If you are a moral scientist who acknowledges when they are wrong, people will want to work with you.
14. Evaluate Yourself
Check in with yourself every few months. Evaluate how things are going in your lab, including with its finances. Take a look at your expenses and your successful projects.
Take note of when something went right. In the future, adhere to that as much as possible.
If there is any room to improve, you should take it. Put into writing some strategies you can pursue. Spend a day thinking over those strategies, then modify them.
If an accident happens in your lab, take personal responsibility for it. Launch an investigation into what happened, and decide what you can do to keep it from happening again.
15. Branch Out
Talk to people who aren’t chemistry experts. Take note of their problems, then consider what you can do to solve them in your lab.
Consider giving tours and talks to non-chemistry professionals. The more educational opportunities you provide, the more that others will see you as an expert. The more you are seen as an expert, the more that other people will want to work for you.
You can collaborate with companies, especially in medicine. This is not “selling out.” Look into who you could partner with.
You can combine your lab with another research lab. This lets you pool resources and gather together a professional team of experts. Talk to your friends to see if that is an option.
What You Need to Do
Running a chemistry lab means you must do more than research chemicals. You need to promote safety. Draft a comprehensive plan and communicate it to all employees.
You need to make money. Find grants that provide your equipment. Come up with new projects by working with artists and talking to non-experts.
You need to provide for your employees. Get steady supplies and label dangerous materials. Provide storage facilities for biological agents and important tools.
You can become a great scientist once you know the essentials. Follow our coverage for more science and management guides.