Why do scientists work in strange cabinets...?

Scientific laboratories are often surrounded by strange cabinets or 'hoods' which researchers work in...but why? 

*please note I was approached to post this blog post and there is a disclaimer at the bottom* 
Image from genencor_14 on Flickr
I worked under a hood when working with my cell cultures during my PhD in order to keep the cells sterile and avoid contamination and infection of the cells. 

Their history

These sophisticated systems were initially developed for the aerospace industry in order to control dust contamination that could negatively impact on the reliability and precision of parts.

Microbiologists did not take long to switch onto the benefits associated with the technology. A 1967 scientific paper notes, experts in the field had long been seeking ways to control contamination. In their piece, which was published in the journal of the American Society for Microbiology, Martin Favero and Kenneth Berquist stated: “For many years microbiologists have attempted to devise more efficient techniques for controlling microbial contamination. These efforts have ranged from the use of cotton-plugged tubes to large germ-free isolators used by gnotobiologists.

“Experience has shown that considerable care, time and money are required to prevent contamination of animals, culture, media, antigens, antisera and other materials which must be maintained or handled in a sterile condition.”

The scientists added that laminar air flow products were tried in their lab in a bid to provide an environment free from microorganisms. The results, they suggested, were “excellent and consistent”. The pair revealed that the new equipment saved “considerable technician time” and stated that it represented a “sound investment”.

If you haven't seen a hood before, here's a picture!

The importance of laminar air flow cabinets for medical science

It’s incredible how quickly and dramatically medical science has progressed. One of the things that has facilitated such rapid advancement is the equipment available to researchers. A wide range of hi-tech instruments now allows scientists to continually forge ahead and expand our sphere of knowledge.

Laminar air flow cabinets are a great example. These units are designed to keep working areas free from contamination and they have proved invaluable in a range of fields, including microbiology.

How do they work?

These cabinets create particle-free working environments by projecting air through filtration systems and exhausting it across work surfaces in unidirectional streams. In other words, the body of air created flows with a uniform direction and velocity.

The cabinets are enclosed on the sides and constant positive air pressure is maintained within them to prevent the intrusion of contaminated air from the surrounding room.

The here and now

Of course, things have changed a lot since this paper was published. The laminar air flow products on offer at present are much more sophisticated and varied in nature than their counterparts in times gone by. 

It’s now easy to order tailor made versions designed to suit the specific requirements of labs in the fields of medicine, pharmaceuticals, chemistry, electronics and manufacturing, among others. They can be used to protect the user and/or the research experiment. 

Meanwhile, the products come in vertical and horizontal designs and they also come with hoods. In addition, organisations can purchase laminar flow benches and booths.

For the best results, people must ensure that they select products that meet each and every one of their requirements. By heading to firms such as Contained Air Solutions, they should find what they are after.

It is hard to say exactly how much of an impact laminar air flow products have had on the field of medical research, but the technology has certainly helped to drive innovation and progress.

Please note I was approached to share this blog post but it contains both my words and those of Contained Air Solutions. 

I do have a real interest in the use of lab equipment and it's history.. anyone else that wants to share information PLEASE DO! 


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