In laboratories, nothing is an afterthought, even the trays, and containers that hold lab materials. In many cases, lab and medical engineers need labware durable enough to hold up to high-stress environments and hold material with properties unlike what most of us are used to.
To put it simply, labware needs to be rugged, elegant, and highly resistant to the multitude of chemicals used in a lab that would destroy ordinary materials like glass or metal. That’s where alumina ceramic labware comes in.
Alumina (Al2 O3) is a high-purity ceramic combined with aluminum oxide that is used in many industries due to its extensive resistance to all kinds of extreme environments found in laboratories and industrial manufacturing.
Alumina can be made in a variety of ways. However, one of the most common methods is known as “hot isotactic pressing”. To summarize the process, pressure is applied on all sides of the ceramic where powdered alloy (aluminum oxide) is added to the ceramic.
Adding an allow to ceramic reduces its porosity, thereby increasing its density and giving it the aforementioned properties that make it so beneficial as a labware material.
Labware requires resistance to many high-stress environments, making alumina a perfect material for labware. It has the following beneficial properties, all of which are important in many laboratory settings.
High Electrical Insulation: due to the inherent properties in ceramic, alumina has a low electrical conductivity and thus is an effective electric insulator. That means it’s safe to handle in cases where electric shock may be a danger.
Hardness: while ceramic is a hard material, alumina is even harder due to its concentrated purity. Labware made from alumina is resistant to concussive energy, meaning it won’t easily shatter under pressure or by blunt force.
Abrasion Resistance: alumina has a natural resistance to abrasive forces due to its inherent hardness. Chemicals and materials that may wear down other materials due to the force of friction (even microscopic) will do much less damage to alumina.
Temperature Resistance: in labware, temperature resistance is an important property. Alumina can not only withstand high-temperature environments, but the substance naturally repels heat conductivity, making it much less hot to handle than more conventional materials like glass or metal.
Thermal Shock Resistance: the surface of ceramic, especially alumina, does not flex much as its temperature fluctuates. The effect of sudden surface expansion and contraction as a material rapidly changes temperatures is known as "thermal shock". While thermal shock will often destroy a material like glass, it has little effect on alumina.
Alumina purity is fairly straightforward. As the purity of alumina increases, so too does the beneficial properties of the compound. Notably, 99% pure alumina is much more resistant to corrosion than 96% or 84%.
Alumina is an extremely versatile material that can be shaped in a variety of ways. For this reason, many types of ceramic labware can be made from the material. The most popular types of alumina labware coincide with the most popular types of labware on the market.
Cylindrical crucible: a container in the shape of a cylinder
Canfield crucible: two cylindrical containers separated by a frit disc, which is a porous disc made for separating liquids from solids
Combustion boats: oblong trays with shallow edges for containing material
Round trays: round trays with shallow edges for containing material
Rectangular trays: rectangular trays with shallow edges for containing material
Ceramic plates: flat plates with no edge
Round disc: round plate with no edge