I am now the proud owner of a Schlenk line – actually it is not a mere Schlenk line but a hybrid – 1/2 high vacuum line, 1/2 Schlenk. And it is a thing of beauty….
Just look at it
Perhaps I am just super excited because it is my first significant piece of equipment in my new lab but it is also a work of art. It was hand blown by a real human glass blower – who bought some taps and some tubing and made this amazing thing.
The red taps are the high vacuum bit. Once its hooked up to a turbo vacuum pump it is capable of pumping to 10-6 millibar ! Which is a pretty healthy vacuum. Just to put this in perspective…. Atmospheric pressure at sea level (like much of the UK) is about 1 bar, or 1000 millibar (or if you are really picky 1.013 bar or 1013 millibar). So when you evacuate this lovely line with a super pump then there is only 10-6 or 0.000001 millibar (or 0.000000001 bar) of pressure left at the highest vacuum (highest vacuum=lowest pressure) – which is a pretty impressive feat for a bunch of glass and taps if you ask me.
The bit on the right is the Schlenk line bit – its generic name is a gas/vacuum manifold. The amazing thing about this piece of kit is that you can hook up one flask to the line and alternately evacuate it or put it under an inert gas atmosphere (like Argon or Nitrogen (N2)) miraculously being able to handle air and water sensitive compounds in a flask on a bench – how cool is that?
This technique was invented by the German chemist Wilhelm Schlenk . His techniques are still used widely today – largely by inorganic and some organic chemists. Schlenk lines, Schlenk flasks, Schlenk techniques, the Schlenk equilibrium.
I think many people, myself included when I was a graduate student, who use these techniques actually don’t know much about Schlenk’s chemistry but rather about his equipment development. In fact this even inspired Thomas T. Tidwell to write an article about Schlenk in Angewandte Chemie entitled Wilhelm Schlenk: The Man Behind the Flask. Schlenk did some amazing chemistry – he was a synthetic chemist, theoretician and has a pretty wobbly personal story – a meteoric rise in and then subsequent exclusion from science – he’s a man worth reading about.
And lastly but equally important, for this lovely line to work you need a pump and a cylinder of inert gas…