In order to buy research chemicals that will certainly be useful in your scientific endeavors, it’s necessary to consider most (if not all) of the following:
1. What do you need it for?
Do you need the reagent or solution just for general purposes or are you going to conduct an analysis using it? For example, there is what people call analytical grade ethanol and a technical grade one. The analytical grade alcohol is mostly used for analytical purposes obviously, such as for obtaining pure products and measuring the purity of substances. It can also be used in experiments that require a lot of precision and accuracy, such as in molecular biology where the littlest of things matter. On the other hand, technical grade ethanol can be used for general cleaning of bench tops and work surfaces. In mammalian cell culture however, it would probably be safest to sterilize everything with an analytical grade 70% ethanol rather than using the general one.
2. Do you need it in solid or in solution form?
To buy research chemicals in solid form or in their natural forms is a lot cheaper as compared to buying them in liquid (or solution) form. This is because you can just dilute proper amounts of the reagent with proper amounts of sterile distilled water and you are done. It could mean a little more hard work if you are going to make a dozen different solutions at once, but it is considerably cheaper. In cell culture however, sometimes it would be best to buy research chemicals such as the media, antibiotics, and other additives in prepared solutions because the sample is very sensitive even to the slightest of concentration and component changes. Contamination, which is a great concern in the world of science, can also be significantly reduced or totally avoided.
3. How much do you need and in what concentrations?
Similar to grocery shopping, buying research chemicals in bulk can be a lot cheaper. However, you do not have to buy several kilograms’ worth of reagents that are rarely used or that are near their expiry dates. In terms of concentrations, it is best to buy the more concentrated solutions than the less concentrated ones. You can just simply dilute the concentrated solution in order to obtain the one that you need. However, it would be difficult or impossible for you to make a 12 M hydrochloric acid from a 6 M one.
4. Do you know your supplier?
In every shopping activity, one should know where the products came from in order to get some assurance that the shoes will never give up on you no matter how much you run, or that the your new computer will be much faster for example. The same principle is true when one needs to buy research chemicals. Scientists and researchers should make sure that the manufacturer and suppliers can be trusted. They should have more than two or three manufacturing, operating, and selling certifications and licenses. They should have top quality controls and standards. Their products should be proven and tested by more than two independent research bodies. It would also be great if there are publications by independent researchers about their products in order to be sure when it comes to performance and stability.
These things may seem all too simple and probably all too obvious they need not to be written. However, if these little things are taken for granted it would be a huge loss not only to you as a researcher but also to your laboratory. Your hard-earned funds will be put to waste and so will be your all-nighters.