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Graduated Cylinder: Everything You Need to Know

Graduated Cylinder: Everything You Need to Know

If you have ever taken a high school or college science or chemistry class, you have most likely used a graduated cylinder. Also referred to as a measuring cylinder, it is a tall cylinder with hatch marks on it and usually has a plastic bottom.  A graduated cylinder is one of the most commonly used pieces of laboratory equipment found in a chemistry lab.

What does a graduated cylinder do?

A graduated cylinder is used to accurately measure the volume of an object.  The key term here being ‘accurately’. Although there are many other types of glassware found in a laboratory, few are as accurate as the graduated cylinder.  Remember those hatch marks? Well those are the graduated marks that help demarcate exactly what the volume is of whatever substance you are trying to measure. And while other types of laboratory equipment also have these graduated markings, only the graduated cylinder has been specially designed to measure at a high rate of accuracy.  Typically a person would pour the liquid to be measured into the graduated cylinder and notate the measurements. Water displacement is primarily used to help determine the volume of a solid object. This is done by filling the graduated cylinder with water, placing the solid object inside and then measuring the displacement.

Construction of the graduated cylinder

In years gone by, the graduated cylinder used to be manufactured using glass. However, these days, the graduated cylinder is made out of either polypropylene or polymethylpentene. This is simply because polypropylene is typically resistant to any harsh chemicals that are poured into the graduated cylinder to be measured; while polymethylpentene is primarily used for its clarity. Both of these substances make the graduated cylinder lighter than glass and easy to transport because they are also less fragile than glass.  In addition, graduated cylinders that are made out of polypropylene do not shatter if they are accidently dropped. Polypropylene constructed graduated cylinders are easy to use because they can be sterilized quickly and easily too.

Traditionally the graduated cylinder is very high and narrow which helps by increasing the accuracy of the measurement of the volume. Every graduated cylinder has a plastic-like stem and a spout which makes pouring liquid much easier. However, there a few graduated cylinders that actually have ground glass joints so that a stopper can be placed on them; alternatively these joints allow the graduated cylinder to be connected onto other laboratory apparatus. The graduated cylinder is supposed to be read with the top of the liquid at the reader’s eye level, where the heart of the meniscus displays the measurement line. The meniscus is the underside of the curvature of the surface of the liquid. Typically the accuracy of a graduated cylinder is +/-0.05.

A graduated cylinder also usually has a rubberized bottom. This helps to sit the graduated cylinder down on a table top safely. Also, the graduated cylinder has a rubberized ring around its neck to prevent breakage in case it is dropped or accidently bumped into other laboratory equipment.

Sizes of the graduated cylinder

The typical graduated cylinder contains measurements that begin at 20ml and increase by 2ml increments thereafter. There are many different sizes that the graduated cylinder comes in.  However, the smallest graduated cylinder is the 5ml graduated cylinder. This is not a very commonly used graduated cylinder as it can only measure minute measurements. The largest graduated cylinder in use today in most laboratories can measure up to 1000ml. Although there are larger ones to be found, these graduated cylinders are much more expensive as well.

Where to find a graduated cylinder

The graduated cylinder is not only used in a high school or college science and chemistry class, they are also used in many other scientific laboratories, food manufacturing and processing plants and can also be found by wine, mead and beer makers to help measure and test batches of their wine, mead or beer.

Before purchasing a graduated cylinder, you will have to decide upon the type of material and the exact size that you will need for your specific measuring purposes. There are many online retailers from whom you can purchase a graduated cylinder or two by simply conducting an online search.

Photo courtesy of Horia Varlan.

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