Gloveboxes and isolators are used to contain hazardous substances or materials that must not come in contact with the outside environment. They protect both the personnel and the isolated substance by maintaining secure containment fields. This equipment is used mainly to allow manipulation, interaction, and processing of materials without direct human or environmental contact or contamination.
Glovebox and Isolator Construction
Gloveboxes and isolators are typically airtight containers that can also provide sterile environments that are oxygen-controlled and moisture-controlled. They have specially-sealed ports that are fitted with gloves allowing operators to manipulate the objects and substances inside the isolator. The glove ports can come in round or oval shapes and are fitted with cuff rings to seal the port from the outside environment.
Gloveboxes and isolators can also come with iris ports, which are self-sealing silicone ports that seal tightly around the operator’s bare hands and arms. These ports enable operators to work with small or delicate materials that are difficult to handle with gloves.
Types of Isolators
The GlobalSpec SpecSearch Database categorizes isolators based on the type of material they are isolating. These types are gloveboxes and glovebags.
- Gloveboxes are isolators used to control a materials environment, mainly its exposure to moisture and air. Gloveboxes are generally considered isolators of inert materials.
- Glovebags are isolators used to allow operators to work with but remain protected from hazardous materials.
Gloveboxes and isolators use gloves and gauntlets designed to function in a hazardous environment. The gloves can be made of specially-treated rubber, neoprene, polyurethane, and other materials depending on the application. The gloves may also be treated with electrostatic powder to minimize static electricity.
Gloveboxes and isolators also come with optional features depending on the materials being handled in the containment isolator, such as microprocessor controllers, carbon or HEPA filters, cryogenic traps, gas purifiers, vacuum pumps, and even closed circuit television to monitor experiments.
The most crucial aspects of a gloveboxes or isolator are its size, leak rate, and number of ports. The isolator must be large enough to fit and manipulate the specimen and small enough to fit the work space. It must also have enough ports for the desired number of operators to be able to interact in the process.
The leak rate of the equipment (usually though the glove membranes) must also be acceptable so as to prevent unacceptable contamination of the outside or isolated environment. Inert isolators are generally kept at higher pressure than the outside environment so that most leakage occurs outward rather than inward.
Because the atmosphere can be carefully controlled, a glovebox can be used for many kinds of research and medical applications, such as DNA sequencing, producing antibiotics from cell cultures, purifying compounds such as enzymes, and preparing tissue cultures. A glovebox workstation may also be used in certain specialty manufacturing applications, such as laser welding; coating medical devices such as pacemakers and stents; and producing nano components.