Laser Safety Glasses: The Ugly Truth About Laser Radiation Exposure

Avoiding Eye Damage

In the time that it takes to blink an eye, laser radiation damage to the eye may have already occurred. Unprotected exposure to lasers can result in the development of cataracts or even a corneal burn, which can result in vision loss. If you are working with or around lasers, it is very important to understand the consequences of laser radiation exposure. We have decided to dedicate this post to educating you about laser beams and the safety precautions you should take when working around them.

Laser Beam Exposure

In addition to direct laser beam exposure, there are several other types of dangerous indirect laser beam exposures. Intra beam exposure occurs when the eye or skin is directly exposed to all or a part of the laser beam. It is also important to be careful of specular reflections. This is when the laser beam is reflected off mirror like surfaces. Reflections from flat mirror surfaces can be as harmful as exposure to a direct laser beam. Curved mirror surfaces decrease the intensity of the beam, but there is a larger area for possible laser radiation exposure. Diffuse reflections happen with surfaces that reflect the beam in many directions. Because the beam is reflected in so many directions, this exposure does not have the same power and energy of a direct beam. It is important to keep in mind that diffuse reflections are still harmful.

Protecting Your Eyes

The biggest risk with working around lasers is having any of these types of exposures enter the eye unprotected. In the human body, the eye is the most sensitive to light. When the eye is exposed to a laser beam, the lens in the eye focuses the beam into a tiny spot. This can actually burn the retina of the eye. At different wavelengths, lasers cause several types of eye injuries. Exposure to laser radiation with wavelengths that are less than 400 nanometers and greater than 1400 nanometers result in cataracts and burn injuries. This is because the eye absorbs this level of exposure through the cornea and lens. The most damaging wavelengths are between 400 and 1,400 nanometers, which results in the heating of the retina and can cause retinal burns. The image below shows which parts of the eye absorb the laser rays at different wavelengths.

Determine The Appropriate Protection

Fortunately, wearing laser safety glasses or goggles can protect the eyes from the risks that lasers pose. The U.S Occupational Safety and Health Administration require staff to wear laser safety glasses or goggles when operating or around lasers that are Class 3b and Class 4. Class 3b lasers are lasers that powered from 5 to 500 milliwatts and Class 4 lasers have output powers of more than 500 milliwatts. These laser safety glasses and goggles provide protection from reflected laser light and direct beam exposure. Laser safety eyewear is available for different wavelength ranges and for specific types of lasers. It is recommended that you find out the class of the laser you are working with as well as the appropriate wavelength range to ensure the best possible protection.

We can’t emphasize enough how important it is to protect your eyes and yourself from the harmful effects of laser radiation. Remember, the damage done to the eyes from laser radiation exposure can be permanent!

Test Tube Racks In The Laboratory

It has been said that test tube racks were invented less than five minutes after the second test tube was created. While that may not be the case, it certainly is true that test tube racks and test tube holders are essential to the effective use and transport of test tubes.

The rounded bottom is an integral design feature that minimizes loss when pouring from the tube, eliminates corners that might be difficult to clean, and evenly distributes the heat when the test tube is held over a flame. Unfortunately, this same feature prevents test tubes from standing unsupported.

Test tube racks support test tubes in vertical wells that prevent the tube from tilting. Some test tube holders feature wells with a very narrow tolerance and hold test tubes securely in vertical position. Other racks have wells with larger diameters and allow the tubes to tilt slightly without spilling their contents.

Early test tube racks were also designed with wooden pegs over which upturned test tubes could be placed to drain completely after washing. The use of disposable plastic test tubes and open bottomed wire racks has nearly eliminated this feature in all settings other than student laboratories.

While a few empty test tubes can be transported in the hand or in the pocket of a laboratory jacket, safe transport of larger quantities of tubes, or tubes that may contain hazardous chemicals, requires the use of a test tube rack. Modern laboratories frequently use large batches of test tubes when running comparative tests or collecting multiple samples, and the need to safely and efficiently move multiple test tubes at one time is a common occurrence. It is also quite common for the contents of test tubes to be hazardous laboratory chemicals.

Test tube racks are available in a wide variety of styles. Some designs may serve a specific purpose while others are simply a matter of cost effectiveness or convenience. For example, wire racks are lightweight, highly resistant to heat, and allow tubes to be viewed while in the rack. Plastic test tube racks are less resistant to heat but are cheap to mass produce and available in an array of colors. Foam test tube racks are specifically designed not only to transport test tubes but also to float in water baths.

Some types of test tube holders interconnect to increase the number of tubes they can carry. Others are designed to be stackable for ease of storage when not in use. Test tube racks and holders are available to meet any experimental need or laboratory design requirement.


Top Myths About X-ray Aprons

All x-ray aprons have lead in them.

Lead has been the industry standard for radiation protection, but other metals like tin and tungsten can attenuate radiation just as well, or better. These metals have been used to create radiation protection products without any use of lead even though the term lead equivalency, or LE, is used to gauge the amount of protection they provide. Not only is there other metals but PVCs as well. PVCs are mixed with the attenuating metals to give the apron flex and durability.

X-ray apron come in one style.

X-ray aprons come in a variety of styles, colors, and patterns. Depending on the application at hand you can find frontal, vest and skirt, or full wrap aprons.  A frontal apron might be something to consider if you find yourself performing quick procedures with no back exposure.

You can store an x-ray apron by folding it like a t-shirt.

Folding an x-ray apron can lead to internal cracking creating space for radiation to escape through. Make sure you always hang your x-ray protection on a hanger or lead apron rack. With proper care, an x-ray apron can last up to 10 years.

All x-rays require an apron for protection.

When x-ray machines were first invented patients required protection because there was limited control of the radiation beam and exposure time was long. Due to advances in radiation technology doctors are now able to restrict an x-ray beam to a target area and significantly limit the exposure time. Compared to a CT scan, a dental x-ray requires minimal radiation and protection is not always necessary. Dentists still equip their patients with an apron to give them a peace of mind.

The effectiveness of an x-ray apron is determined by thickness.

When determining the effectiveness of an x-ray apron, one must look at the attenuation rate of the material. Thickness can play a factor in attenuation, but different materials can absorb or deflect radiation in dissimilar ways. Remember all x-ray aprons are made up of a matrix of composites, so depending on the manufacturer, thickness can vary but attenuation may remain the same.

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Attenuation Of Radiation

Is your radiation shielding really protecting you? Sometimes we see situations where no protection is needed. Other times a full wrap apron is required.  So as a patient, doctor, or radiology technician how does one know if they are being properly protected?

Radiation on a Molecular Level

In order to understand radiation protection we would like to briefly educate you on the science of x-rays and why they can be dangerous. Exposure to different energies can affect the human body in various ways. When we are exposed to high levels of energy there can be negative side effects. For instance light rays can blind, sound waves can cause deafness, and heat waves can burn. Similarly, negative side effects may result from exposure to x-ray energy, but why? All matter is made up of atoms. When x-ray energy collides with atoms its effect depends on the strength of the ray and the type of atom encountered. When the interaction causes an atom to lose an electron, an ion, or electrically charged atom is formed. This is the negative effect of radiation exposure because electrically charged atoms are able to break DNA chains. Broken DNA either dies or mutates, which can lead to cancerous cells and birth defects.  Due to the fact that alteration of human cells is a possible outcome of radiation exposure, it is imperative to take all proper protective measures against overexposure.

Proper Protection

When referring to radiation protection, a common misunderstanding is the thicker the protective barrier, the better. Yet, this is not true. Yes, thickness plays a role in protection, but the attenuation factor is the main focus. Remember, attenuation is the measurement of absorbed and deflected energy as it passes through a material. (To understand the basics of attenuation read our “What is Attenuation” blog post.) Let’s equate the attenuation theory to a well known item: sunglasses. If you are picking out a pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes from sun damage, your main focus is the tint of the lens, not its thickness. Light is absorbed by dark colors, so the darker the tint of the lens, the less light will pass through to your eyes. Thousands of sunglasses offer the same lens thickness, but the attenuation of light varies most with the lens’ tint. The same concept applies to radiation protection. Just like different lens tints attenuate light rays, different materials attenuate radiation energy.

So what are effective radiation attenuating materials? The truth is that even air attenuates radiation to a degree, because every element attenuates radiation to some extent. Through research and development, it has been concluded that when it comes to radiation attenuation, the most effective elements are the metals. When this fact was discovered, lead was inexpensive and readily available, so lead aprons were put to use.  Lead quickly became the industry standard for radiation protection and the term lead equivalency evolved as the measuring tool used to gauge the effectiveness of radiation protection. Lead aprons are comprised of a matrix of lead and PVC (to give the lead durability).

 This matrix is then formed into sheets and layered for stronger attenuation and increased flex. So what is the downside? You likely already know it – Protective Apparel that only uses lead as the attenuating metal is HEAVY! Prolonged use can cause back and shoulder injuries for personnel required to wear the aprons day in and day out.  The radiation protection industry solved this problem by developing light weight and non lead aprons that protect just as well as the original lead aprons. Lightweight aprons utilize a combination of lead and non lead elements to achieve effective protection levels. Non Lead Aprons use only nonlead elements to achieve effective protection levels. Some of the nonlead elements found in the lightweight and lead free aprons on the market today are tin, bismuth, aluminum, barium, and titanium. These metals are able to attenuate x-rays efficiently while still meeting the original lead equivalency standard. Tin, a lighter weight metal, is combined with lead to create light weight aprons, which reduces stress on shoulders and the lower back. Nonlead aprons not only provide the lightest weight option, due to their lack of lead content, they are considered non-hazardous and can be safely disposed of without fear of environmental impact. The reason there has not been a strong push for adopting these lightweight and nonlead forms of protection is due to a misunderstanding of the attenuation process. Many medical imaging personnel believe lead is the only material that can attenuate radiation effectively.  Now that you know that many metals effectively attenuate radiation energy, you can make a better informed decision about the protective apparel you choose.

Prior to revealing the dangers of cell mutation, uncontrolled amounts of x-rays were being used for various purposes. In fact, in the 1920s you could walk into a shoe shop and take an x-ray of your foot inside a shoe to find a perfect fit! Shielding ourselves is not the only precaution we can take to protect ourselves from harmful x-ray exposure. Equipment manufacturers have developed x-ray machines with the ability to: control the direction of the radiation beam, limit exposure time, and adjust the power of radiation. The main goal in medical imaging today is to expose patients to the bare minimum amount of radiation and still obtain optimal results. You may hear the term ALARA which stands for As Low As Reasonably Achievable. An example of this would be x-raying a child as compared to an adult. Because a child is smaller there is less mass present for the x-ray to penetrate. So the imaging professional can lower the typical adult power level of the x-ray machine and still obtain optimal results.

Anyone working around radiation should ensure they are aware of the levels and frequency with which they are exposed.  Understanding exposure and your risk will ultimately allow you to select the proper protection apparel. The attenuation concept is a major focus in radiology and the more we understand about its nature, the further we can advance radiation practices with the correct equipment and protection. If you are ever administering or receiving an x-ray and you are concerned about radiation protection, have no fear if lead is nowhere near. The attenuation concept is still in play when other metals are used. Product manufacturers are meeting standards to protect you from unnecessary radiation damage while preventing shoulder and back injuries!

What Is Attenuation?

Attenuation Defined

Attenuation is the measurement of energy absorbed and deflected as it passes through a medium. In simpler terms, attenuation is how much stopping power a material has on energy. Consider how energy travels; most energy forms, whether sound, heat, light or radiation, travel in waves.  The wavelength and amount of force propelling the energy affects how that energy reacts to any object in its path.  The atoms of the object will absorb some energy, deflect some energy or allow some energy to flow through. The measurement of the absorbed and deflected energy provides us with an attenuation rate for any given material.

Deflected energy is energy that’s original course of travel has been changed by an object in its path.  Deflected energy is also known as scatter energy. An example of deflected energy is present in the following rescue scenario: In a survival situation, a mirror can be used to signal for help by deflecting the sun’s light rays toward a rescue plane.  The energy source is the sunlight and the object is the mirror. When the mirror is placed in the path of the light waves, the mirror’s atoms deflect the energy in various new directions.  This scatter energy can be seen by the search and rescue team when flying overhead.

Absorbed energy is energy that is incorporated into the atoms of an object in its path. A musician in a recording studio appreciates the concept of absorbed energy when considering their sound proof walls. In this scenario, sound waves are the energy and foam padding is the material. As the instrument’s sound waves travel toward the foam padded walls, the atomic composition of the foam absorbs the sound energy.  This effective energy absorption is particularly important as it provides superior sound quality.  Without absorption by the foam padding, the sound energy would be deflected and the scattered sound waves would cause an echo in the recording.

The term attenuation is often heard when referring to an x-ray. The same concepts described above apply to medical x-rays. Radiation is the energy source and the target of clinical interest is the object. Radiation is emitted through medical imaging equipment and the energy is attenuated by a patient’s bones and internal structures to create an image. The use of x-ray energy allows doctors to see inside a patient without having to create an incision. The medical industry’s understanding of the attenuation concept is invaluable to every patient that has relied on medical imaging to ensure their health and well being.

Attenuation is an important concept which must be understood in many applications. Without an understanding of attenuation one may not survive a life threatening situation, music downloads would not sound clear and broken bones would not be easy to diagnose.  The world constantly uses the knowledge of attenuation to develop various technologies in an effort to realize optimal results.  Even today we continue to mix and match materials and energy sources to advance technology through the use of the attenuation concept.

Agarose: The Chemical That Keeps On Giving

From diagnosing diseases to separating molecules, the chemical agarose is used in a variety of medical and science applications. Believe it or not, agarose is actually derived from agar, which is extracted from the cell walls of red algae. Agar also has a presence in many laboratories. It is often found in environmental science and pharmaceutical development where it is used for growing bacteria, viruses, plants and other types of cells. So why do these laboratories use agar? This unique substance has a low melting point and has the ability to prevent cells from eroding the agar.

How does agar become agarose?

Agar is purified and broken down into the chemical, agarose. The chemical comes in several different forms. Agarose starts in a powder form and can be turned into a gel when the powder is mixed with water. The agarose gel has a consistency that is similar to rubber resins. When the agarose gel is combined with certain additives, the gel can also be rolled into small beads.

The many forms of agarose provide ample opportunities for the chemical to be used in several medical procedures and laboratory tests. Some of the procedures and tests include the following:

  • Monitor the progression of a disease
  • Collect information about a sample that has unknown properties
  • Separate DNA, RNA and protein molecules
  • Analyze molecular size

Because agarose can be used in a multitude of ways, it is not uncommon to come across this chemical in many fields of science. It is frequently found in microbiology, forensics, genetics, biochemistry and molecular biology. The use of agarose is more common than you may think. Many middle schools, high schools and colleges teach laboratory classes that use various forms of agarose.

What makes agarose so special?

Like agar, agarose has several rare characteristics. The chemical has the ability to take on several different forms including a powder, gel and beads. It has large pores which allows for the easy passage and separation of molecules, including DNA and proteins. The chemical also carries a neutral charge, meaning that it is not positively or negatively charged. With the simple structure of agarose and its many uses, it easy to see why this chemical is used across so many professions.

How-To Find The Right Size X-Ray Apron

Proper shielding is essential when protecting against radiation. X-ray aprons come in a variety of sizes, styles, product materials, colors, and patterns. Today we will be focusing on the sizing and style. When selecting an x-ray apron, size and style, are the two leading factors one must consider. A doctor who spends many hours exposed to radiation will have to decide which style of x-ray apron he/she desires depending on the application they are using it in. For example, if a doctor turns around during a procedure, exposing his/her back, then a full wrap around or full skirt and vest apron is highly recommended. If the procedure doesn’t involve much movement and the doctor only exposes the chest area, then a frontal apron is appropriate.

Now that you know the style you want it’s time to pick the size, and believe me when I say “size really does matter” in this circumstance. Never try to squeeze yourself into an apron or go for a baggy look.  Having an apron that is too big can lead to gaps, which increases your risk of exposure. The extra weight can also be cumbersome. If the apron is too tight, you risk limiting your mobility, which is essential in the operating room.  If fashion is your main concern check out our post on lead apron designs.

Sizing up your x-ray apron is an easy process. First decide the style apron you desire. If you picked a frontal apron then there are only two measurements to consider. The first measurement is your chest size and the second is your length. When referring to one piece aprons your length is the distance from your shoulder to the top of your kneecap. We have constructed sizing charts for each style apron that will give you the most comfortable and safe fit.

For a full wrap around apron you will still be considering your length, but instead of a chest measurement you will be factoring in your suit/dress size for maximum protection and comfort.

If you are trying to size up for a full vest and skirt apron there are two lengths to think about. These lengths include the length of the vest and of the skirt. The vest length is from the shoulder to a couple inches past the waist and the length of the skirt is the distance from your waist to the top of the kneecap. This will create an overlap for full protection. The last measurement you will need is your suit/dress size.

The full skirt and vest option will give you a stronger custom fit for full protection. It also offers an even weight distribution onto your waist and shoulders reducing stress on your lower back. If there is ever an instance where you feel you are in between sizes always go with the bigger choice for maximum protection and comfort.  X-ray aprons are also designed with buckles and velcro straps for additional fine tuning. Let us know what you think of our post. Feel free to visit our radiation protection page to see a variety of products we offer.

Lead Aprons: A New Fashion Trend?

Want to become the most popular Rad. tech in your department?  Then maybe you should start updating your wardrobe. As radiation techniques advance, lead aprons have been progressing in stylish colors and patterns. The last time I wore lead, I was receiving an X-Ray. During the procedure I couldn’t help but imagine that a picture of a lobster on my apron would be a nice touch instead of the drab gray it was. I have yet to see this style (let me know if you find it), but the trend of custom designing lead aprons as well as non-lead is becoming more noticeable.

There are many different styles Rad. Techs or doctors can choose from as well as designs depending on the radiation exposure. 

The colors range from hot pink, to camouflage for our troops. You can now pick a favorite color and who knows maybe even grab the attention of your boss you have been trying to impress. From a psychological perspective, the fun designs might be something to consider when working with young children undergoing an operation.  It’s a great way to make them feel less intimidated as well as show their guardians you care.

One may argue that these new styles can be distracting in an environment where focus is important. For those who feel this way, the new colors and designs can also be used for organizational purposes. Hospitals that are trying to keep their departments structured can color code or use the embroidery option for labeling. This will also keep the lead aprons from bouncing in between departments as well. It is vital for occupations exposed to radiation to be properly protected. More importantly, those affected on a daily basis. Radiation is not something to take lightly, but with the custom designing of lead aprons it’s a nice way to lighten the mood of any stressful environment.

Simplifying How To Decide Which Microscope Is Right For You

It goes without saying that microscopes are relied on and used on a regular basis by laboratories, medical facilities and schools. Although microscopes are used routinely by many different types of individuals, the process of selecting a microscope can be confusing. We have dedicated this post to explaining the different types of microscopes as well as their uses.

Stereo Microscopes vs. Compound Microscopes

Compound microscopes are perfect for viewing small specimens because of the high powers of magnification they offer. Some of these specimens include blood samples, bacteria and water organisms. Compound microscopes are capable of magnifying specimens up to 1,000 times. They usually come with three to five lenses of varying powers of magnification. The range of powers of magnification are usually from 4x to 100x. The eyepiece of the compound microscope also adds an additional magnification of 10x.

On the other hand, stereo microscopes are often used for observing specimens that require lower powers of magnification. The types of samples observed with a stereo microscope include insects, rocks and leaves. This type of microscope has a magnification range of 6.5x to 45x, which is much lower than the compound microscope. Most stereo microscopes can also be considered binocular microscopes because they often come equipped with two eye pieces.

Monocular, Binocular or Trinocular?

It is also important to think about if you need a microscope with one, two or three eye pieces. Monocular microscopes, microscopes that are equipped with one eye piece, can magnify samples up to 1,000 times. If you need a microscope that magnifies at higher levels, a binocular microscope is right for you. Monocular microscopes are often used in classrooms and laboratories for observing slide samples. Stereo microscopes are available as monocular microscopes, but compound microscopes are only available in binocular and trinocular models.

Binocular microscopes have two eye pieces, which can make it easier for the viewer to observe slide samples. Many users also find binocular microscopes to be more comfortable to use instead of the monocular microscopes. With the higher magnification range and the mechanical stage, binocular microscopes can be used for a variety of applications.

Trinocular microscopes come with a third eye piece. The third eye piece of this type of microscope allows you to mount a camera onto the eye piece. Cameras can be mounted onto binocular microscopes, but it disrupts the operation of the microscope. Mounting a camera to the trinocular microscope can allow the views of the specimen can be presented or shared with others.

We hope this post helps clear up some of the confusions with selecting the right microscope. Let us know what you think!

Everything You Wanted To Know About Pipette Tips And More!

It is hard to believe that simple, plastic molded disposable tips are the bread and butter of molecular biology, chemistry and the world of medicine. That’s right, we are talking about pipette tips. These tips create a dependable and accurate pipetting system. Pipette tips come in three different types including non-sterile, pre-sterilized and filtered tips.

The most commonly used type of pipette tip is non-sterile tips. They are often used in laboratory applications where sterility is not important to the experiment or test being performed. On the other hand, pre-sterilized pipette tips are designed to prevent contamination. They are certified free of DNA, RNase, ATP and pyrogens. Because these pipette tips are certified free of DNA, RNase, ATP and pyrogens, they are ideal for applications that require sterility such as cell cultures.

Filtered pipette tips are designed to prevent aerosols from forming. Aerosols are small liquid or solid particles that are airborne. These particles can actually remain airborne for long periods of time and can be inhaled. Even worse, 65% of all laboratory infections are caused by aerosols, usually by inhaling them. Filtered pipette tips help to reduce the risk of aerosols forming in the laboratory. They also protect the pipette shafts from contamination and reduce the risk of cross contamination. These pipette tips are often used in contamination sensitive applications such as forensics and clinical diagnostics.

With the possibility of infection from aerosols, we can’t emphasize enough how important it is to enforce safe work practices in the laboratory. This includes properly disinfecting pipettes after use and disposing of pipette tips.