Usually critical work demands high precision control or measurement; that may require isolation. When an experiment or other process must be isolated from air, gases, microbes or other contamination, finding the best containment can be a challenge. The simplest and easiest is often to carry out the work in a test tube, flask or other sealed container. When the process requires actions that don’t work in simple glassware, a more flexible lab glove box isolation system may be essential.
In such cases, the work can be slowed or compromised when the glove box is not immediately available, especially when it doesn’t fit the overall needs.
Does it fit?
The lack of ‘fit’ can take many forms. It can be due to equipment that won’t physically fit into available counter or floor space. In some cases the issue is delivery time that won’t fit into the project schedule. Of course there will be problems if the installed cost doesn’t fit into the budget. There can even be issues with electrical, heating or cooling needs that may not fit available services. Even if purchase and installation of the glove box fit into lab, schedule and budget, operating and maintenance demands may not fit into your work routine.
The good news is that there are barrier isolation options that will easily fit in most crowded labs, challenging schedules (under 2 weeks delivery) and tight budgets (under $500). The bad news is that one size does not fit all; the choice you make depends on the requirements of your process which could demand larger, more complex and pricier options. Best to find the simplest isolation system that will meet project needs, rather than opting for overkill, which can create huge burdens as the project proceeds.
The basic option
Generally when laboratory glassware won’t work, the next approach to consider is a simple inflatable glove bag. This approach is inexpensive, easy to buy and install, and purging it with nitrogen or clean air is very simple and quick.
Glove bags come in a range of sizes, starting small, so fitting in the lab, fitting required materials inside and squeezing into available space should be relatively easy. For small lab experiments 6 semi-disposable units can be purchased quickly for under $250 including US shipping. The one shown here is a small to medium size unit available from Amazon. Larger and smaller models are also available when you search for Inflatable Glove Chamber.
For simple anaerobic, inert or clean processes that don’t have difficult instrumentation, manipulation or precision atmosphere issues, the glove bag is a natural choice. The downside, and main reason these are not more popular is the fact that you will be doing your work in a balloon, of sorts. The flexible vinyl or polyethylene walls are not as stable, easy to clean, clear or compatible with instrumentation as are those in a rigid glove box cabinet. If you want to give the glove bag a try, here is a link to this product at Amazon.
Lean laboratory glove box
If you need more stability, clarity or instrumentation options than available with a glove bag, a counter-top glove box may do the job and still fit your project needs. If you opt for a professional model with good ergonomics and capabilities for controlled atmosphere and pressure control, it may handle a wide range of laboratory projects.
Generally, lean professional dry-box systems include manual adjustments and basic pressure instrumentation for low pressure operation. If you require Oxygen or humidity monitoring, you can use separate portable instruments, chemical indicators or order an instrument as an optional item if available. It may also be possible to use an external instrument connected to the glove box atmosphere through a flexible hose.
Banthrax Corp. specializes in lean glove box cabinets like the Posi-Dome I-Box L unit shown in-use in the image above. These compact, rugged, light-weight professional workstations are simple and reliable. They are well engineered for convenient, fail-safe operation. With a convenient clam-shell design of easy-to-machine polymers they can be modified, if needed, with woodworking tools. While these are more expensive than glove bags or consumer-grade glove box containers, they are still under $1900USD for standard models and are easy for users to install and maintain. Like most glove box and glove bag units, they require users to supply low pressure gas for the inside atmosphere but are otherwise relatively self-contained. You can find more information on these enclosures here.
If your application requires more vertical clearance and/or an air lock there are other Posi-Dome models that may fit, but some processes require more than a lean unit. Multiple high-precision instruments, large specimen or equipment size or Oxygen control needs beyond 50 parts per billion require a more massive, expensive isolation system.
Large controlled atmosphere glove box
When you need to operate large instruments or other devices and/or specimens in a precisely controlled atmosphere with oxygen below 100 parts per billion, you may require a large complex isolation glove box or other containment with heavy barriers and/or gas treatment devices.
This technology includes heavy wall and window materials because it is a pressure vessel able to contain high vacuum. It includes a chemical atmosphere refining (dry-train) system to remove and adjust contaminant levels and it has an array of automated controls to manage this technology for controlling atmosphere purity beyond the level provided in compressed gas cylinders.
This is powerful technology and is capable of impressive isolation performance. It is also complex, and requires investment as much as 20+ times the lean glove box above and significant technology installation and maintenance effort that can be burdensome and distracting from the primary project focus.
If this level of atmosphere isolation and control is needed, such technology is essential and of great value. However, if it is possible to operate with a lower level of atmosphere control, the investment, risk and implementation time can be drastically reduced.
The bottom line
Glove box isolation technology provides great options for atmospheric isolation of processes and experiments that cannot be performed completely in sealed glassware. While it is very helpful to apply the KISS principle and avoid deploying technology that is not essential, the ability to sample or open sealed containers without exposure to air or oxygen or microbes is a powerful asset. That said, it is essential to avoid overkill, and use the simplest technology that works effectively for you, as the probability of success is dependent on use of manageable technology.
Think of your isolation system as a vehicle for getting to your processing or research goals. If you really NEED that double-decker bus, you better get it; but if you don’t, the guy in the Corolla will beat you to the finish line every time.