The ends of the inner glass tube are usually fitted with ground glass joints which are easily fitted with other glassware. The upper end is usually left open to the atmosphere, or vented through a bubbler, or a drying tube to prevent the ingress of water or oxygen.
The outer glass tube usually has two hose connections, and a coolant (usually tap water or chilled water/anti-freeze mixture) is passed through it. For maximum efficiency, the cold water always enters through the bottom fitting, and exits through the top fitting. Multiple condensers may be connected in series. Normally a high flow rate is not necessary to maintain a cooling surface.
Condensers are often used in reflux, where the hot solvent vapors of a liquid being heated are cooled and allowed to drip back. This reduces the loss of solvent allowing the mixture to be heated for extended periods.
Condensers are used in distillation to cool the hot vapors, condensing them into liquid for separate collection. For fractional distillation, an air or Vigreux condenser is usually used to slow the rate at which the hot vapors rise, giving a better separation between the different components in the distillate.
For microscale distillation, there are commercially available apparatus which include the "pot", the Claisen head, and the condenser fused into one-piece. This reduces the hold-up volume, and obviates the need for ground glass joints preventing contamination by grease and air leaks.
A Vigreux condenser is a modification of the air condenser. It is usually used as a fractionating column for fractional distillations. Unlike straight-walled columns, a Vigreux column has a series of downward-pointing indentations on the inside wall which serve to dramatically increase the surface area without increasing the length of the condenser. Because of their added complexity, Vigreux columns also tend to be considerably more expensive than traditional straight-walled designs.
The true inventors, all of them inventing it independently, were the German chemist Christian Ehrenfried Weigel in 1771, the French scientist, P. J. Poisonnier, in 1779 and the Finnish chemist Johan Gadolin in 1791.
The Liebig condenser is much more efficient than a simple retort due to its use of liquid cooling. Water can absorb much more heat than the same volume of air, and its constant circulation through the water jacket keeps the condenser's temperature constant. Therefore a Liebig condenser can condense a much greater flow of incoming vapour than an air condenser or retort.
In the second configuration, the jacket tube contains the coolant, and the condensation takes place inside the spiral. This configuration maximizes collected condensate, since all the vapors must flow through the entire length of the spiral, thus having prolonged contact with the coolant.
The Allihn condenser consists of a long glass tube with a water jacket. There is a series of large and small constrictions on the inside tube, each increasing the surface area upon which the vapor constituents may condense. Ideally suited for laboratory-scale refluxing.
The spiral cold finger-type apparatus now known as the Friedrichs condenser was invented by Fritz Walter Paul Friedrichs, who published a design for this type of condenser in 1912.
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