When it comes to laboratory liquid, there’s just nothing that can top the peerless H20, argues Matthew Partridge.
Research is in many ways a subject of debate. Ideas are presented with evidence and through repetition and discussion they are tested and examined. Every discovery or methodology in science is subject to inquiry, dissection and disagreement because that is at the very core, the point of the scientific method. There are few constants (even mathematical constants are the subject of much debate) and even fewer unanimous agreements.
One exception to this is that, scientifically, water is obviously the best lab liquid.
Now I don’t make that claim lightly. To give anything the lofty award of best in state of matter is quite an accolade, so obviously I do so with appropriate consideration and thought. It’s also something I come to with a lifetime’s experience as a user, consumer and balloon filler of water.
First off, water saves researchers’ lives! Which is I think a strong start for any best of anything contender. Water clearly has a role in supporting life, putting out fires etc, but to be best-lab-liquid you have to do more, and water is relied on to do so much more.
It’s a bit counter-intuitive that when you spill something the first thing you do is make the spill bigger with water
Water is the go-to answer to the part of a risk assessment where you spill something dangerous and are inevitably recommended to “dilute with lots of water”.
It’s a bit counter-intuitive that when you spill something the first thing you do is make the spill bigger with water but that is the brilliant power of the liquid, to prevent people from accidentally wiping up concentrated gook.
Most labs even have showers that are specifically designed for washing researchers down if they spill some concentrated gook on themselves. Even though most of the showers are filled with more rust than water, they are sometimes the only thing stopping a researcher from getting a super cool-looking giant hole in their leg.
Secondly, water helps with waste disposal. We’ve actually written an entire article about the phrase “down the sink with lots of water” which is the pinnacle of a lot of labs’ hazardous waste disposal systems. But just because it gets misused a lot doesn’t make it a bad idea per se and, if anything, is a sign of just how good water is for getting rid of small amounts of complex lab waste such that it is often the default answer.
Dr Matthew Partridge is a researcher, cartoonist and writer who runs the outreach blog errantscience.com