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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Profiles in Safety: The Key to a Safer Glove Box? Thinking Outside the Box

It seems like an impossible problem to solve: How can you protect yourself and your surroundings from radioactive contamination while studying radioactive actinides such as uranium or plutonium in a mass spectrometer?

John Gibson, David Shuh, and Travis Bray of the Chemical Sciences Division found a solution—a custom-built glove box with a specially engineered interface that connects to the spectrometer, preventing radioactive materials from being released into the laboratory. It’s the first design where the spectrometer sits outside the box, they say. To protect researchers from radioactive contamination, “most other labs just put the entire spectrometer in the glove box,” explains Bray, because it’s too difficult to design a modular glove box that is both user-friendly and radiologically safe.

While “designing, testing, re-designing, and re-testing” the new system, Shuh says they collaborated with the EH&S Division to make sure the glove-box design met ventilation exhaust and radiological safety requirements. They also took extra measures to prevent another hazard—injuries from repetitive stress and discomfort associated with glove-box use—by building a cardboard mock-up based on drawings designed by the Lab’s ergonomics team. The result? “We now have a glove box that is easy to use and really comfortable,” says Bray.

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