Don’t Pop That Bubble Wrap! Scientists Turn Trash Into Test Tubes
Hate to burst your bubble, glass lab gear. But plastic bubble wrap also works pretty well at running science experiments.
Scientists at Harvard University have figured out a way to use these petite pouches as an inexpensive alternate to glass test tubes and culture dishes. They even ran glucose tests on artificial urine and anemia tests on blood, all with the samples sitting inside bubble wrap.
"Most lab experiments require equipment, like test tubes or 96-well assay plates,” says chemist George Whitesides, who led the study. “But if you go out to smaller villages [in developing countries], these things are just not available.”
One glass test tube can cost between $1 and $5. Bubble wrap, by contrast, is dirt cheap. One square foot of it, with about 100 to 500bubbles depending on bubble dimensions, costs only 6cents, Whitesides and his team reported Thursdayin the journal Analytical Chemistry.
"You can take out a roll of bubble wrap, and you have a bunch of little test tubes," he says. "This is an opportunity to potentially use material that would otherwise have been thrown away."
Whitesides is a master at converting cheap, everyday materials into lab equipment. He’s made a centrifuge from an egg beater and CD player. And he’s designed aglucose detector from paper and tape.
While visiting scientists around the world, Whitesides noticed that many labs in developing countries don’t even have simple pieces of equipment, such as test tubes for running blood tests, storing urine samples or growing microbes.
That’s when the idea popped into his head: bubble wrap. The packaging material is readily available all over the globe, and scientists often have it around the lab because other equipment is shipped in it.
Photo courtesy of American Chemical Society