FAQs in the Biology Department

Welcome to research in the Biology Department! Some of you may be new to research at Amherst College and some of you may have research experience from other institutions. Below is a list of frequently asked questions, some are safety questions, and some are not.  Please send suggested FAQs to Maureen Manning.   

  • Maureen Manning, Biology Safety Coordinator, 542-8328, mgmanning@amherst.edu                                               
  • Lori Nichols, Biology Laboratory Technician, 542-2081, lnichols@amherst.edu
  • Jason Williams, Chemical Hygiene Officer, 542-2736, jwilliams@amherst.edu


Can I work in the lab alone? You must obtain permission in advance from your P.I. and all work must be non-hazardous. It is strongly recommended that there be at least 2 persons in the lab at all times. If concerned about working alone, you can contact the Campus Police, 413 542-2291, and they will provide a wellness check at your request. Many students tell a friend or room mate so someone knows your whereabouts.

How do I acquire 95% or 100% ethanol? The biology dept. provided both. Please contact Maureen Manning,

Where do I get ice? There are three ice machines in the Science Center alcoves/hallways: B117A just outside the laundry room, A203 and A303. Help yourself but please note- the ice is for research purposes only, not for human consumption.

Where do I get dry ice? Dry ice is located in B024A.  You must complete the online safety training before working with dry ice and before card access is granted.

Where do I get liquid nitrogen? Liquid nitrogen is located in B024A. you must complete the online safety training and receive hands-on training from your supervisor or Jason Williams, the Chemical Hygiene Officer, before working with liquid nitrogen. Card access is granted upon completion of this training.

How do I dispose of petri plates? All agar petri plates, used and unused, must be placed in a biohazard bin to be autoclaved. Why? Our solid waste goes to a landfill and all plates need to be visibly treated and labeled properly. We have a protocol, approved by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, that we must follow. Should a bag come open in transit or at the landfill everyone will be aware there is absolutely no risk. The only plates that do not need to be autoclaved are empty unused plates, perhaps ones that fell on the floor.

Why can’t I write “waste tips” or “liquid waste” on a container? In the safety world, the word waste means that it must be treated as hazardous and it requires proper labelling. Please write "used tips", "used liquids", etc.

What do I do with pipette tips? Please do not put pipette tips directly in the regular lab trash because the trash bags in the labs are very thin and pipette tips easily poke through the bag. There are two sizes of zip lock bags available in B338 (the autoclave and glass washer room) for pipette disposal, please help yourself. 

What does RODI water stand for? Reverse Osmosis Deionized water. This is the water that comes out of the white tap in research and teaching labs. RODI water is tap water that has undergone a multi-stage filtration system that is now highly purified water.

Where can I find distilled water? The Science Center does not have any distilled water on tap. If you need DI water, you will need to purchase it off campus.

Where can I find ultra-pure water? Ultra-pure or milli Q (trademark name) water is available in the Chemistry Dept. in A222 and in the Biology Department in B321E, Sally Kim's lab.  Please ask before using the system for the first time. Please also be sure to fill out the log.

What goes in the Glass Only Box? Broken glass, glass slides, empty rinsed chemical bottles, serological pipettes, and other oversized “pokey” trash that would poke through the thin bags in our regular trash. Please do not put gloves, pipette tips, Kim wipes, etc.in this box.

Can I use a red or orange biohazard bag in a biohazard bin? No. Massachusetts Department of Public Health regulations require us to line the biohazard bins with a clear unlabeled autoclavable bag. This means the bag does not display the word "biohazard" nor does it have the biohazard symbol. Red and/or orange bags with the word "biohazard" and the biohazard symbol are used for disposing of specific regulated medical/biological waste. Never put a red or orange bag, labeled with a biohazard symbol or not, in the regular trash because our trash goes in the landfill and red and orange bags signal medical/biological waste. The handling and disposal of medical/biological waste is regulated by state and federal guidelines. Violations may incur steep fines. Please contact the Biology Safety Coordinator, Maureen Manning, for all questions regarding medical/biological waste, waste handling, and the disposal of red or orange bags.

How do I access the Chemical Inventory System? Amherst College utilizes the Vertere inventory system—an online database. You must have an account to gain access. Please contact Dylan Donovan, Chemical Laboratory Coordinator, ddonovan@amherst.edu , if you need to be set up for the first time or if you forgot your username and/or password. Once you have logged in, select the “Chemical” tab, followed by “View/Update” on the left side of the screen. This will bring up the search screen. You may search for chemicals by name, CAS number, department, location, user (i.e., P.I.), tag (barcode) number, or any combination of these. The inventory also serves a practical purpose for the various research laboratories on campus by providing online access to a list of all materials present on campus. This facilitates “borrowing” of materials required in small quantities, which reduces costs to individual laboratories and promotes safety by minimizing the amount of waste and potentially hazardous materials stored on campus. Always contact the lab you want to "borrow" from. Additional information on the Chemical Inventory System including adding, decrementing or transferring a chemical can be found on the Chemcial Inventory webpage.

Where can I find the SDS (safety data sheet) for a chemical I am working with?  The Amherst College Environmental Health & Safety webpage has a link for all on campus chemicals or simply  click here to access MSMSonline database. You can also use Google, Fisher, and Sigma to access SDSs.

Can I ship my own packages? Many items are regulated for shipment both within the United States and overseas. Authorized Amherst College shippers have completed regulatory IATA (International Air Transportation Association) training. All shipments with hazardous materials including dry ice must be shipped by an authorized shipper. Please contact Maureen Manning or Jason Williams for assistance and for all shipping questions; they will determine if you can ship the item yourself.

How do I determine what should go in the Satellite Accumulation Area (SAA)? For all questions regarding chemical compatibility, please contact the Chemical Hygiene Officer, Jason Williams, 542-2736, jwilliams@amherst.edu.

Where do I bring glassware to be washed? Please bring your glassware to B338, make sure the glassware is rinsed with no solidified powders or agar. Also, oversized (extra tall graduated cylinders) & undersized (small stir bars) items and misc. odd shaped items need to be hand washed by you in your lab!

Where do I bring items to be autoclaved? Please bring your items to be autoclaved to B338. If you are new, please contact Lori Nichols or Maureen Manning, and we will gladly show you the ropes.

Where do I get a sharps container? Sharps containers are available in two sizes in B338, please help yourself.

What do I do when my sharps container is full? Please contact Maureen Manning or Lori Nichols for pickup.

What do I do when the biohazard bin is full? Please contact Lori Nichols or Maureen Manning. We will come to your lab, remove your waste and line your bin with a new autoclavable bag. Please do not transport the bag or the full bin yourself!

What do I do with ice packs? If you have ice packs you no longer want please put them in the ice pack collection bin outside of B338, the autoclave/ glass washer room. Please do not put them in the regular trash because some are safe for disposal in the regular trash, and some are not because they contain chemicals.

                                                                                                                                                  MGManning 8/19/2022