Expanding the specs of temperature range and accuracy
Historically, ovens and incubators have been distinct cousins in the lab. “Ovens have a wide temperature range but less accuracy,” says Ross, “and incubators have less temperature range but more accuracy.” He adds, “But they are really closely related.” In fact, advances in research demand even closer capabilities from these devices. As Ross explains, “Applications are asking for wider temperature range and close, tight specifications for accuracy. That has to do with the development of new materials like plastics and nanomaterials being used for batteries and all sorts of things.” The platform that provides those temperature and accuracy features is really a hybrid between an oven and an incubator.
Beyond the materials placed in an oven, different applications need various devices put in an oven. As Sebastiaan Portier, director, sales and marketing at Spark Holland in Emmen, the Netherlands, explains, “With our ovens, we provide room for more analytical columns— in the best case, up to six analytical columns. That is supported by the column-switching valve inside the column heated department.” He points out that “no time is lost changing columns” and that it reduces the leaking that comes from “reusing and reconnecting of columns.” Some users will also look for other ways to speed up oven operations. Portier points out that “the fast heating and cooling of our ovens allow quick temperature gradients where required,” so users do not need to wait a long time for an oven to reach a set point.
A real workhorse
Although lab ovens can be extremely robust, working great for years, any device needs some maintenance. For example, says Ross, “If the door seal is not flexible enough anymore, then an oven’s specification is out the window.”
Even with all the parts in working order, an oven needs calibration now and then. “The big rule of thumb—if you really use the oven, and it’s not standing in a corner for occasional use—is that you should get it calibrated once a year,” says Ross.
At Michigan State University in East Lansing, Janice B. Harte, an associate professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, uses a lab oven for food-storage studies and for drying materials, such as heated beans, before making flours or powders. She also uses it to dry glassware and Drierite for desiccators. To accomplish those tasks, she says, the most important features are “accurate temperature control at lower and higher temperatures, and an easy-to-see display panel.” She also wants convection to provide the needed airflow. Like most users, Harte needs an oven that gets her specific jobs done.
For additional resources on lab ovens, including useful articles and a list of manufacturers, visit www.labmanager.com/lab-ovens