The Schlenk line (also vacuum gas manifold) is a commonly used chemistry apparatus developed by Wilhelm Schlenk. It consists of a dual manifold with several ports. One manifold is connected to a source of purified inert gas, while the other is connected to a vacuum pump. The inert-gas line is vented through an oil bubbler, while solvent vapors and gaseous reaction products are prevented from contaminating the vacuum pump by a liquid-nitrogen or dry-ice/acetone cold trap. Special stopcocks or Teflon taps allow vacuum or inert gas to be selected without the need for placing the sample on a separate line.
Schlenk lines are useful for safely and successfully manipulating moisture- and air-sensitive compounds. The vacuum is also often used to remove the last traces of solvent from a sample. Vacuum and gas manifolds often have many ports and lines, and with care, it is possible for several reactions or operations to be run simultaneously.
When the reagents are highly susceptible to oxidation, traces of oxygen may pose a problem. Then, for the removal of oxygen below the ppm level, the inert gas needs to be purified by passing it through a deoxygenation catalyst. This is usually a column of copper(I) or manganese(II) oxide, which reacts with oxygen traces present in the inert gas.
The main techniques associated with the use of a Schlenk line include:
- counterflow additions, where air-stable reagents are added to the reaction vessel against a flow of inert gas;
- the use of syringes and rubber septa to transfer liquids and solutions;
- cannula transfer, where liquids or solutions of air-sensitive reagents are transferred between different vessels stoppered with septa using a long thin tube known as a cannula. Liquid flow is supported by vacuum or inert-gas pressure.
Filtration under inert conditions poses a special challenge that is usually tackled with specialized glassware. A Schlenk filter consists of sintered glass funnel fitted with joints and stopcocks. By fitting the pre-dried funnel and receiving flask to the reaction flask against a flow of nitrogen, carefully inverting the set-up, and turning on the vacuum appropriately, the filtration may be accomplished with minimal exposure to air.
An explosion can occur due to the common use of liquid nitrogen in the cold trap, used to protect the vacuum pump from solvents. If a reasonable amount of air is allowed to enter the Schlenk line, liquid oxygen can condense into the cold trap as a pale blue liquid. An explosion may occur due to reaction of the liquid oxygen with any organic compounds also in the trap.
The two reactants for an aldol reaction are prepared in adjacent flasks, ready for one to be transferred to the other while maintaining air-free conditions
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- Preparation of a Manganese oxide column for inert gas purification from oxygen traces