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Beads for Baths

Whether an experiment or procedure requires heating or cooling, beads can be easier to use and more economical.

Mike May, PhD

Mike May is a freelance writer and editor living in Texas.

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Beads for Laboratory Water Baths

Switching from Ice or Water Makes Life in the Lab Easier in Many Cases

Heating things in a lab makes most scientists think of a water bath, but the medium can be beads instead. For instance, metal beads can replace the water in a laboratory bath or ice bucket, and they perform the same job—just not in the same way. Sometimes going from water to beads makes a huge difference.

Both San Antonio-based Lab Armor and Chicago-based ThermoElectric Cooling America (TECA) offer beads that look like BBs. These can be poured into a bath or bucket instead of water or ice. And they can be used over and over.

Paul Kim, assistant professor of biology at Grambling State University in Louisiana, says, “I use a bead bath in place of a water bath to heat media and reagents, mainly for cell culture.” On the plus side, he sees three big advantages. First, he says, “I can leave the bead bath on so it’s always ready to use without monitoring and refilling.” Second, a bead bath doesn’t need water, which can support microbial growth. Third, he says, “You don’t need floating racks or weighted collars, because things just stay put.” Overall, Kim concludes that “these features make the bead bath tremendously convenient.”

Of course, few changes in lab techniques bring only good, and bead baths come with some trade-offs. One—maybe the key one—is a slower transfer of heat. “A large vessel will take longer to heat,” Kim says. He also points out that “procedures that depend on rapid heating, like heat shock,” could be tricky.

The benefits of a bead bath, however, make this technology useful in life science research and a range of industries. Within an industry, bead baths can also be used in many stages of production, such as in research labs, production facilities, and quality control steps.

Keep your cool

In addition to heating, beads can be used for cooling, such as in most TECA tecaLAB products, like the ICE-4000 Electric Ice Bucket for general cooling and the ICE-301 for temperaturecontrolled cooling. According to Emily Hutensky, sales and marketing coordinator at TECA, this equipment can be used “in place of an ice bath in various laboratory applications.” In fact, she says that it can be used “anywhere cooling of samples is needed—laboratory or industry.” As an example, she mentions a customer in the dairy industry that uses this device to keep milk samples cool as part of its quality control process.


Related Article: Bead Bath: Bath Armor Inside Video

When using beads in these devices, Hutensky notes several benefits. One is low maintenance. She says, “Beads will require cleaning once in a while in a mild soap solution, but that is all.” In addition, you save the time and money of using ice. As long as an ice bucket is filled with beads, turned on, and cooled down, it’s ready to use. Hutensky adds, “There is no worry about ice melting, water evaporating, or replacing ice or water. It is simply always available and always cold.”

Although this technology seems easy enough to use, there is a tiny learning curve. “For example, to get large vessels well immersed, you sometimes need to remove beads,” Hutensky says. “For best results, samples must not sit atop beads.”

This bead technology can also be used in multipurpose platforms. For instance, TECA’s AHP-301MSP is a magnetic stirring plate that heats and cools. It uses the company’s Thermal Lab Beads, which are aluminum. This bath’s temperature can be adjusted from 0 to 50 degrees Celsius.

Whether an experiment or procedure requires heating or cooling, beads can be easier to use and more economical. In some cases, beads just plain do a better job.

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