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Test tube

Test-tubes used by Lister in his fermentation experiments, c. 1877.

Test-tubes used by Lister in his fermentation experiments, c. 1877.

Credits:Science Museum London

People have used glassware to contain chemicals and other substances since the days of medieval alchemy, but in many cases these were the same kinds of containers that people would use in the home. Very few containers were made specifically for experimental purposes, and even then only for rich scientists such as the chemist Antoine Lavoisier (1743-94). The standard equipment of modern science only emerged with the rise of the laboratory in the 1800s. Test tubes, consisting of a cylindrical tube with a rounded bottom and lipped top, were developed in the early 1800s, and the Petri dish a century later.

In the 1900s the test tube became a symbol of science. The concept of ‘test-tube babies’, born with the help of science, was popularised from the 1930s. In 1978 the first test-tube baby was born and now many couples are able to benefit from in-vitro fertilisation (IVF - literally ‘fertilisation in a glass’).


Related links

External links:


M C Inhorn and F van Balen, (eds) Infertility around the Globe: New Thinking on Childlessness, Gender, and Reproductive Technologies (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002)

P J T Morris, From Classical to Modern Chemistry: The Instrumental Revolution (Cambridge: Royal Society of Chemistry in association with the Science Museum, 2002)


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