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Autoclave

Autoclave

The autoclave is a device used to sterilize (deep clean) medical instruments. It did not start out as a medical instrument. In fact, the autoclave was originally invented and promoted as a method for preparing food by French physician Denis Papin. Papin called his invention a "steam digester." He described his "New Digester" in a 1681 pamphlet, emphasizing the benefits of using the device to process food for easier digestion (the process by which food is broken down for absorption into, or elimination out of the body).

The autoclave is a pressure cooker. A pressure cooker is a container with an airtight lid that traps steam from boiling water. The steam increases the pressure inside the cooker, which raises the water's boiling point. The higher temperature kills bacteria much faster than at lower temperatures. The pressure cooker includes a safety valve to prevent explosion if the steam pressure gets too high.

The scientific basis for sterilization remained a mystery until the work of French chemist Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) became widely known and accepted. Pasteur's investigations in the 1850s dealt originally with food, something the autoclave was originally designed to process. In his search for a solution to the spoilage of wine and beer, Pasteur found that bacteria was killed at 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Applying this to his scientific methods, Pasteur invented the sterile technique of boiling or heating instruments to kill microorganisms. It was Pasteur's efforts that brought about the eventual use of the autoclave as a standard medical tool.

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autoclave

autoclave A vessel in which high temperatures can be achieved by using high pressure; the domestic pressure cooker is an example. At atmospheric pressure water boils at 100 °C; at 5 lb (35 kPa) above atmospheric pressure the boiling point is 109 °C; at 10 lb (70 kPa), 115 °C; at 15 lb (105 kPa), 121 °C, and at 20 lb (140 kPa), 126 °C.

Autoclaves have two major uses. In cooking, the higher temperature reduces the time needed. At these higher temperatures, and under moist conditions, bacteria are destroyed more rapidly, so permitting sterilization of foods, surgical dressings and instruments, etc.

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autoclave

au·to·clave / ˈôtəˌklāv/ • n. a strong, heated container used for chemical reactions and other processes using high pressures and temperatures, e.g., steam sterilization. • v. [tr.] heat (something) in an autoclave. ORIGIN: late 19th cent.: from French, from auto- ‘self’ + Latin clavus ‘nail’ or clavis ‘key’ (so called because it is self-fastening).

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autoclave

autoclave (aw-tŏ-klayv)
1. n. a piece of sterilizing equipment in which surgical instruments, dressings, etc., are treated with steam at high pressure.

2. vb. to sterilize in an autoclave.

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autoclave

autoclave A strong steel vessel used for carrying out chemical reactions, sterilizations, etc., at high temperature and pressure.

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