When one enters the Lab 120 in the Silicon Photovoltaics institute, the first view of it is this:
It was kind of a shock to see all these “hands” floating in the air. They reminded me of an astronaut’s space suit. A very interesting tool, which I was very excited to use.
One mission: getting the hands into the glove box
A glove box is a device permitting you to do experiments in a different atmosphere as outside. Itis very useful if you work with toxic chemicals like here in the Silicon Photovoltaics Institute. As you handle everything with gloves and it is closed so that the air is safe too. Basically there is a big box with a window on one side and two holes where massive gloves are installed. What you need to know is, when you work in this kind of lab, you cannot just put your hands inside the gloves. Using a glove box is a tricky exercise where the first important skill is: patience.
One, two… four different gloves
When I want to do solutions or coatings or even store my samples, before I can use the black gloves you see in the picture, I need to put on two sets of other gloves. First the ones that we use in every lab and then a second pair of gloves large enough to cover my arms. At this stage I will be able to slip my already covered hands and arms into the massive gloves of the glove box. Last but not least, I need a final pair to not contaminate the ones from the glove box.
The very first time I put them on, this was such a chaos for me! It took nearly 10 minutes (or at least that is how time passed). In total there were four layers between my fingers and whatever I handled. And this was only the first step!
Endless minutes later: the experiment can start
Then came the part of actually doing the experiments. The important detail to know is that the size of the gloves is meant to fit everyone’s hands. It is not a secret that actually my hands were swimming in gloves. So, my hands with everything on were a lot bigger that what they actually are, mainly because in that space there was “more glove than hand”.
Now, handling all sorts of small things in that configuration was a bit of a challenge. Well, not only handling things but also being careful to not make any mess! With a lot of patience and doing things slowly, the experiment was manageable. I had to prepare solutions for coating a glass with a conducting surface with a light-harvesting material.
For that, I had to grab small vials, put milligrams of compounds into them precisely, write in a tiny handwriting on their really small cap, put the solvents in, and let them mix. This is not difficult, but it takes time. Every time I have to go between the place where I weight the materials and do the solution, I need to do the four-glove-process again and again. And when everything is ready to coat, it’s time to take all I have prepared to the other glove box.
This post is part of a #SummerStudent series. You may also enjoy reading Daniel’s post: Berlins’ guide for fellow students