It is a commonly used technique for separating a compound of interest from a low-boiling solvent, such as an organic, inorganic, or polymeric substance.
Separation is accomplished by heating a mixture of solvent and compounds inside an evaporation flask, while partially submerging it in a warm water bath. The glassware is simultaneously rotated in the bath and subjected to a reduced pressure environment via a vacuum pump.
Rotary evaporators evaporate and condense the solvent, effectively separating it from the mixture. The desired compound is the only thing left behind, which will be used for a downstream application.
Rotovaps are standard fare in organic chemistry because of their sample concentration and solvent distillation capabilities, and are commonly utilized in chemical and pharmaceutical laboratories for extraction processes, sample preparation, R&D, and more.
Rotary evaporators range in size and volume capacity, with options available to meet space and usage specifications, as well as digital displays for ease of use. Performance and quality control are important in any lab, so understanding how a rotary evaporator operates will help to inform your decision-making.
The main components that affect the performance of evaporation include the rotary motor, vacuum pump, condenser, water bath, and various glassware. Depending on a laboratory’s evaporation needs, some scientists rely on centrifugal evaporators to simultaneously evaporate multiple samples. Let’s take a look at the common components of a rotovap.
This motor unit rotates an evaporation flask containing the sample. Spinning the flask increases the surface area of the solvent, the rate of evaporation, and reduces the possibility of a solvent boiling or erupting suddenly.
This eruption is referred to as bumping, and can lead to contamination. It is important to consider your motor’s rotational speed and the effect that it will have on your other equipment. A rotovap attains speeds of 10-280 rpm, but anywhere between 250-280 rpm is considered an optimal speed.
Some devices offer speeds above 300 rpm, which will generate higher rates of efficiency, but greater chances of unwanted wear-and-tear.
Each device comes with a vacuum pump that substantially reduces the pressure in the evaporation system. This is necessary because applying a vacuum in a rotary evaporator lowers the boiling temperature of the solvent, allowing for quicker evaporation.
It is important to understand what kind of vacuum pump is best suited for your applications. Using the wrong pump can be inefficient, but more significantly, it can also lead to equipment damage, safety risks, and solvent loss.
This component is used to condense gas vapors during the evaporation process. By cooling the vapor down using a localized cold surface, the condenser turns the gas back into a liquid. Condensers are usually made of glass, and come in a variety of configurations that are ideal in evaporation processes because of their ability to reduce solvent loss.
The two main types of condensers used in rotary evaporators are Dimroth condensers and cold fingers. Rotovaps have a flask or catch that captures the condensed liquid.
A water bath is used to heat the sample. The evaporation pulls heat from the solution, so it is important to replace that heat in order to maintain a constant temperature and continue the process. Using a water bath provides a lower temperature, ensuring that the solution does not become damaged.
The temperature of the water bath should not exceed the boiling point of the solvent. In most cases, 40-60°C is sufficient. If the temperature is too high, the condenser may be overloaded, as the rate of evaporation exceeds its capabilities.
While a rotary evaporator is only capable of processing one sample at a time, a centrifugal evaporator is capable of evaporating solvents from multiple samples simultaneously. This technique involves a vacuum pump attached to a centrifuge chamber to reduce pressure and lower the boiling point of the sample.
Centrifugal force is applied through spinning to ensure even heat dispersion and to prevent any boiling over, or “bumping”. Similar to a rotovap, this machine evaporates solvents quickly while preventing any damage.
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