Gloveboxes are known to be found in cars. However, good glovebox manufacturers will tell you that they are something completely different as well. In fact, they are designed to be used in laboratories, where they form a sealed container in which it is possible to manipulate tools in a separate atmosphere. The side of the box is fitted with gloves (hence the name), so that operatives can perform tasks without the atmosphere being broken. Usually, the box is transparent, so that people can see what they do.
There are three main types of gloveboxes used in laboratories:
- The glovebox designed for hazardous materials, like infectious disease agents and radioactive materials.
- The glovebox designed for substances that must be in a nitrogen, argon, or other purity inert atmosphere.
- The glovebox that creates a vacuum environment.
Gas is entered into a glovebox through a pump systems of different treatment devices. These remove oxygen, water, and solvents. This is usually done through heated copper metal, after which it passes through a nitrogen/hydrogen mixture. Often, molecular sieves are also used to ensure all water is removed. These boxes are commonly found in the works of organometallic chemists, who want to move dry solids between containers.
Schlenk methods can be used instead of a glovebox. The reason why some chemists do this is because plastic seals found within the gloveboxes are attacked by organic solvents. The result is that the box leaks and no longer creates the right environment. Furthermore, water and oxygen can diffuse through the gloves.
It is common for gloveboxes in hazardous materials applications to be contained in other gloveboxes. For instance, an argon-filled box may be placed inside a nitrogen-filled box. This is very common in radioactive work, which must be done under inert conditions.
In biological sciences, where high biosafety level pathogens or anaerobes must be used, it is also common to see gloveboxes.
When used for the study or manipulation of hazardous materials, the pressure inside the glovebox is generally lower than that in the atmosphere that surrounds it. This means that, if there is a microscopic leak, air will be taken in, rather than that the hazardous substance can escape. Often, they are also fitted with HEPA filters, which further ensure the hazards is fully contained.
Different Gloveboxes for Different Applications
Some examples of different gloveboxes include:
- Plastic gloveboxes that are highly flexible. These ensure that a change in the atmospheric gas is visible with the naked eye, because the wall will expand.
- Metal gloveboxes, in which dangerous substances can be studied in a vacuum atmosphere. Additional protection is added to avoid implosions and explosions.
- Portable gloveboxes, which have been placed inside the International Space Station.
- Multiple-port gloveboxes, through which different operators can work together by accessing the materials from different sides.
- Large scale gloveboxes, commonly found within the nuclear industry.
If you are looking for a glovebox, it is firstly very important that you understand which one you need and, secondly, that you find a proper manufacturer.