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One of the main purposes of creating a laboratory space is cleanliness. Labs are a special environment created for special purposes that require unique characteristics depending on the researcher’s needs.
This means that they are outfitted with specialized equipment. Traditionally, that equipment would have been designed to resist corrosion and act as a flame retardant. Later, glassware and gas burners were needed for advanced chemistry. In the modern era, lab usage is so varied that hundreds of different tools and specialized environments are used.
Each purpose and its resulting environment have different sterilization needs. This article discusses some of the major considerations to make when designing a new lab.
Sterilization Needs Come In A Few Forms
Sterilization is most often used in the context of lab and medical equipment. This is a very common form of sterilization and is used by the widest range of professionals.
Equipment sterilization is the most widespread form of sterilization and is required by several industries such as medical, dental, chemical, and biological. It is also used widely in the private sector by hair salons, nail salons, tattoo & piercing shops, distilleries, and breweries.
There are several different methods to sterilize equipment and each one is effective for different purposes. The most common methods are as follows:
- Autoclaving is the standard way. It’s very effective, but it takes a long time and equipment maintenance is burdensome.
- Dry heat is effective but must be brought to higher temperatures to complete the process. It’s good for special situations where the objects can be destroyed by moisture.
- Traditional sterilization methods such as flame and boiling.
- UV sterilization is quick and effective, the equipment is also easy to maintain. Making this a go-to method. However, it can only sterilize surfaces. This makes it ineffective as a method for intricately designed equipment that has hidden surfaces that the UV light cannot reach.
- Chemical sterilization is a varied method that ranges from bleach to ethylene oxide gas. Powerful cleaning agents are forms of chemical sterilizers. Prepackaged surgical tools often come pre-sterilized through exposure to a sterilizing gas in which they are also packaged.
In addition to equipment, working surfaces and the air needs to be sterilized depending on the tasks that need to be completed in the lab.
Air Purity Is Essential For Many Tasks
Many lab activities need some form of air sterilization. Biological tasks such as DNA related tasks, surgery, and even semiconductor manufacturing all require clean air environments. You can get a good idea of what air purification varieties are available at TopAir Systems. Not all clean air environments provide the same features.
Sometimes a lab needs to have clean air constantly pumped into and out of the environment. This is usually to avoid the buildup of toxic gases or fumes.
Other times a lab may require multiple levels of air containment. In this instance, there are usually several different clean spaces used as “airlocks” to prevent the escape of potentially contaminated air into the greater environment. This is especially important when performing research with deadly pathogens. These systems usually come with a sterilized working field contained within a chambered workspace, which is sealed further within a controlled lab environment.
The most delicate procedures require the air itself to be sterilized and even free of particulate matter. Surgery is the most obvious practice that requires scrubbed air. Scrubbed air removes viral and bacterial components that are released into the air by physicians and even the patient themselves.
The manufacturing of microprocessor technology requires air to be almost completely free from particulate matter. The crafting of transistors at such a small scale is extremely vulnerable to chemical corruption. Even the slightest electro-chemical charges found in a speck of dust is enough to disrupt the process and reduce the tolerance value and reliability of the end product.
There Are Several Different Sterile Environments To Choose From
Air sterilization comes in the form of several different pieces of equipment. Some of these tools create microenvironments that are easily controlled, others prepare the open environment inside a laboratory. There are several forms of microenvironments available to suit specific research needs. Here are a few examples:
- Biosafety cabinets are relatively small working spaces that are designed to prevent contamination to both the researcher and the external environment as a whole.
- Fuming chambers are small contained working spaces that are in use for investigative work. They provide specialized environments that allow forensics workers to pull otherwise unusable prints from evidence by exposing them to chemical fumes. These fumes are hazardous to people and so they must be contained.
- Clean benches are working environments that use filtered air from the larger environment to provide a constant flow of clean air in the environment.
- PCR cabinets are enclosed clean air environments that prevent the contamination of sensitive procedures. “PCR” refers to a specific DNA synthesis procedure, but they have been adopted by researchers from several different fields due to their effectiveness at preventing contamination.
Determining the exact needs and intentions of the lab space is essential before choosing a design. There are several different products to choose from and each one has specific uses and capabilities. Within each category of sterile environments, there are a variety of different materials, methods, and chemicals used.
Of these methods, autoclaving and HEPA filtration are expensive and difficult to maintain but provide some of the highest levels of capability available. A variety of gases may be used to inactivate or even kill pathogens. Some are inert and others are quite dangerous, corrosive, and volatile. FIltration or UV exposure may be utilized. Finally, different materials are frequently used for the equipment build itself. Some of which are polypropylene plastic, glass, or metal depending on use.
Choosing sterilization procedures and equipment for a lab is not a simple task. The necessary laboratory environment must be considered while making contamination and exposure to hazards as improbable as possible.
If hazardous materials will be in use, containment and air removal are essential. If pathogenic exposure is a concern, external air circulation is an obvious thing to avoid and multiple levels of containment need to be installed. If acids will be used, material corrosion resistance is an essential requirement in addition to fume removal. And finally, if the procedure itself is highly sensitive, then a PCR cabinet will need to be used to create containment and a sterile closed working space.