Research laboratory

Preparation and preservation instruments

PCR apparatusZoomZoom
© Nicole Catellier, Cinémanima

PCR apparatus

The so-called "polymerase chain reaction" (or PCR) technique is used to make a very large number of copies (about one billion), of a DNA or RNA sequence from a very small quantity (about a picogram) using a thermoresistant enzyme (DNA polymerase). It is based on the repetition of temperature transition cycles. Each cycle contains three steps: DNA denaturation, hybridization, and elongation. All the elements required for the reaction (DNA polymerase, primers, nucleotides, and the sequence to be amplified) are grouped together in a tube that will be subjected to the different temperatures corresponding to each step. These temperature cycles are carried out automatically in a thermocycler, programmed and controlled by the PCR apparatus.

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The applications for this equipment are too numerous to be cited. For example, one application in the field of medicine is the search for disease by detecting the presence or absence of a gene that is specific to the causal agent (pathogenic agents or genes involved in carcinogenesis). PCR is also used in prenatal diagnostics, where it can be used to identify a known identified gene mutation (mucoviscidose, for example) or deletion (Duchenne myopathy, for example) responsible and characteristic of the disease.

Water (oil) bathZoomZoom
© Barbara Bélanger, Armand-Frappier Museum

Water (oil) bath

The water (oil) bath is a device for heating a liquid (water or oil) and maintaining its temperature constant using a thermostat. The tubes containing the preparations that we wish to maintain at a desired temperature are immersed in the bath. This simple heating principle is generally used for enzymatic digestions and for synthesizing organic chemicals.

© Barbara Bélanger, Armand-Frappier Museum


The gas burner is used to sterilize materials and to maintain a sterile work environment. In effect, microorganisms on an inoculation loop or at the opening of containers are destroyed on direct contact with the flame. Furthermore, the flame heats the nearby air creating a sterile cone in which material can be manipulated without risking contamination. There are several different types of burners.

Table centrifugeZoomZoom
© Nicole Catellier, Cinémanima

Table centrifuge

Due to its centrifugal force, this device will rapidly concentrate the particles or cells suspended in a solution contained in the tubes placed on the rotor. The time and centrifugal force can be adjusted from a control panel on the device. The closer the density of the particles is to that of the solution, the more one must increase the time and centrifugal force. The tubes must be placed symmetrically in the rotor to maintain a perfect equilibrium. The table centrifuge can be used with small volumes (< 2 milliliters).

Anaerobic chamberZoomZoom
© Nicole Catellier, Cinémanima

Anaerobic chamber

An aerobic chamber is a completely sealed work area designed to allow the handling of sensitive and oxygen-intolerant microorganisms. The chamber can therefore contain gas mixtures (such as argon or nitrogen) exempt of any trace of oxygen. The chamber contains two gloves that can be worn to manipulate the objects. The chamber is usually partially or fully transparent to be able to view the work being done.

This same type of chamber can be used for protection during experiments when working with dangerous substances such as radioactive materials or infectious disease agents. In these cases, an oxygen-free environment is not required.

© Nicole Catellier, Cinémanima


The very low temperature freezer (-80°C) is used in the laboratory to preserve cells and animal tissues as well as microbial strains. The metabolism of cells maintained at this temperature is temporarily halted. They can be kept for months, even years, before being used again. A cryoprotectant, such as glycerol, must be added to the cells before freezing to protect them from damage due to the formation of ice crystals.

Dry ovenZoomZoom
© Nicole Catellier, Cinémanima

Dry oven

The laboratory oven is a heating enclosure used to create a stable and homogeneous thermal environment with the aid of a thermostat and a ventilation system. These ovens are usually electrically powered. Some ovens are specially conceived to maintain an environment favorable to the growth of living organisms, such as bacteria; these are known as incubators.

Hybridization ovenZoomZoom
© Nicole Catellier, Cinémanima

Hybridization oven

This oven is used to conduct hybridization experiments between DNA/RNA fixed to a support (generally membranes) and marked DNA/RNA. Marked DNA/RNA is used to reveal a targeted genetic characteristic. The oven consists of a heating enclosure used to create a stable and homogenous thermal environment with the aid of a thermostat and a ventilation system. The enclosure contains a removable rotating plate capable of accepting several hybridization chambers simultaneously. The speed of rotation and the temperature can be adjusted depending on the experiments and materials used.

Chemical fume hoodZoomZoom
© Nicole Catellier, Cinémanima

Chemical fume hood

A chemical fume hood is a work area protected by a glass window. Behind the window, a system vacuums the air out extracting toxic fumes produced during the handling of chemical products. Its main function is to protect the handler and the environment. The fumes must remain confined in the work area; they are absorbed by filters. However, unlike the biological safety hood, the chemical fume hood does not guarantee that the manipulations are carried out in a sterile environment.

Laminar flow hoodZoomZoom
© Nicole Catellier, Cinémanima

Laminar flow hood

A laminar flow hood (or biological safety hood) creates a work area enclosed in a chamber designed to avoid microbial contamination of biological specimens or other material sensitive to microorganisms. In the back of the chamber, the air passes through a filter and is then diffused in a laminar flow between the user and the work area. The hood is usually made of stainless steel without joints or spaces, to keep out microorganisms. These hoods are equipped with UV lamps that have a germicidal effect in order to sterilize the work area and its contents before using them.

CO2 incubatorZoomZoom
© Nicole Catellier, Cinémanima

CO2 incubator

CO2 incubators are used to cultivate human and animal cell lines. Their temperature is controlled by a thermostat, usually kept at 37°C, with a concentration of approximately 5% CO2 in the air. This recreates the physiological conditions found in the bodies of the source animals for the cells.

Incubator stirrerZoomZoom
© Nicole Catellier, Cinémanima

Incubator stirrer

The incubator stirrer is used to stir cultures and solutions contained in tubes or flasks placed on a rotating plate. The incubator’s enclosure has a thermostat to control and stabilize the temperature desired for the experiment and a ventilation system to ensure temperature homogeneity. The speed of rotation of the plate on which the tubes and flasks are placed is also adjustable. This speed is calculated in rotations per minute (rpm).

Hot plate with magnetic stirrerZoomZoom
© Catherine Vamos

Hot plate with magnetic stirrer

A hot plate is a device to heat various vessels and their contents. Coupled with a magnetic stirrer, this device is very useful for homogenizing (using a magnetic stirring bar) a solution and dissolving powder or crystal compounds.

Laboratory glassware and plasticwareZoomZoom
© Anne-Pascale Richardson, Armand-Frappier Museum

Laboratory glassware and plasticware

Laboratory glassware and plasticware includes all glass and plastic containers used in a laboratory, large or small, graduated or not. A container can be sealed and it can contain either solutions or solids. These containers are usually stored on shelves or in cabinets away from dust. They must always be clean. Glassware can be reused, washed, and sterilized.

© Nicole Catellier, Cinémanima


A vibratome is an instrument used to prepare microscopic sections using a vibrating curved razor blade. Biological tissues can be finely sliced without being previously frozen or impregnated with polyethylene glycol. This avoids the creation of artifacts, modification of the morphology, destruction of enzymatic activities, or other harmful effects on these tissues. The sections are then stained and studied under the microscope.

Vortex mixerZoomZoom
© Catherine Vamos

Vortex mixer

A vortex mixer is a device used to vigorously mix and homogenize solutions. It comprises a heavy base that contains the motor of the device. A receptacle above the base is where the tube to be "vortexed" is deposited. The device is started by pressing on the rubber receptacle with a tube.