Title:
Method and apparatus for accessing a plate storage device
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A storage device and its method of use comprises a first door and a second door spaced relative to one another so as to define a storage area therebetween. Each of the first and second doors have an open position to permit access to the storage area and a closed position to enclose the storage area. The first door is linked to the second door such that when the first door is in the open position the second door is in the closed position and when the first door is in the closed position the second door is in the open position.



Inventors:
Riling, David (Franklin, TN, US)
Pollock, Paul W. (Nashville, TN, US)
Jackson, Jon (Fairview, TN, US)
Application Number:
11/182067
Publication Date:
01/26/2006
Filing Date:
07/15/2005
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A47B88/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
CHAN, CEDRIC A
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
BakerHostetler (Washington, DC, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A storage device located within an environmentally controlled chamber, wherein the storage device is accessible from within the environmentally controlled chamber as well as from an environment exterior to the storage device, wherein further access from the environment exterior to the storage device has a minimal impact on the environmentally controlled chamber, the storage device comprising: a first door; a second door spaced relative to the first door so as to define a storage area therebetween, each of the first and second doors having an open position so as to permit access to the storage area and a closed position so as to enclose the storage area, wherein the first door is configured to be linked to the second door such that when the first door is in the open position the second door is in the closed position and when the first door is in the closed position the second door is in the open position.

2. The storage device of claim 1, further comprising a member disposed within the storage area, the member being connected to the first and second doors such that moving the first door from the closed position to the open position displaces the member relative to the storage area so as to displace the second door relative to the member, the second door being displaced from the open position to the closed position.

3. The storage device of claim 2, wherein the second door is configured to pivot about the member when the second door is displaced.

4. The storage device of claim 3, wherein the second door includes a plate having a pivot connection to the member and the plate comprises a link configured such that the second door and plate are limited to rotational movement about the member upon linear displacement of the member in a plane relative to the storage area.

5. The storage device of claim 2, wherein the member is connected to the first door such that wherein when the member is displaced relative to the storage area, the member moves linearly in a plane relative to the first door.

6. The storage device of claim 5, wherein the member is connected to the first door so as to have a slide connection therebetween.

7. The storage device of claim 2, wherein the storage area includes at least one sensor configured to locate the position of the member relative to at least a portion of the storage area.

8. The storage device of claim 2, wherein the member is configured to hold at least one container within the storage area.

9. The storage device of claim 8, wherein the first door further defines an opening in communication with the storage area and wherein moving the first door from the closed position to the open position displaces the member such that the at least one container is displaced from inside the storage area to outside the storage area through the opening.

10. The storage device of claim 2, wherein the member is free standing relative to the storage area.

11. The storage device of claim 10, wherein the member is connected to the first door so as to be cantilevered from the first door.

12. The storage device of claim 1, further comprising: a housing having an inner chamber, the housing defining an opening in communication with the inner chamber; and a connector for connecting the first and second doors to the housing such that when the second door is in the open position, the inner chamber is in communication with the storage area, and when the second door is in the closed position, the inner chamber is at least partially enclosed from the storage area by the second door.

13. The storage device of claim 12, wherein the inner chamber defines an inner chamber temperature and wherein further the second door is configured such that when the second door is in the open position, the storage area has a storage area temperature substantially equal to the inner chamber temperature, and when the second door is in the closed position, the inner chamber temperature remains substantially constant and the storage area temperature is variable.

14. The storage device of claim 13, wherein the inner chamber temperature is in the range of about 4° C. to about 40° C.

15. A storage device comprising: assembly means defining a storage area therein and including first means for providing access to and enclosing the storage area and second means for providing access to and enclosing the storage area; the first means being linked to the second means such that accessing the storage area by the first means encloses the storage area by the second means and further such that enclosing the storage area by the first means provides access to the storage area by the second means.

16. The storage device of claim 15 further comprising container means for holding a material within the storage area.

17. The storage device of claim 16, wherein the first, second and container means are linked together such that accessing the storage area by the first means displaces the container means relative to the storage area so as to enclose the storage area by the second means.

18. A method of accessing a container within a storage device comprising: providing an assembly having a first door and a second door disposed relative to the first door so as to define a storage area therebetween, the first door being linked to the second door, each of the first and second doors having an open position so as to permit access to the storage area and a closed position so as to enclose the storage area, the assembly further having a member configured to hold the container in the storage area; placing the first door in the open position so as to place the second door is in the closed position; and accessing the container in the storage area, the accessing being limited to access by the first door.

19. The method of claim 18, further comprising placing the first door in the closed position so as to place the second door in the open position; and alternatively accessing the container in the storage area, the alternatively accessing being limited to access by the second door.

20. The method of claim 19, wherein at least one of accessing the container or alternatively accessing the container includes determining the position of the container relative to the storage area.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims priority to provisional U.S. patent application entitled, “Method and Apparatus for Accessing a Storage Plate Device,” filed Jul. 16, 2004, having a Ser. No. 60/588,337 the disclosure of which is hereby incorporated by reference in its entirety.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates generally to accessing an enclosed interior chamber. More particularly, the present invention relates to an apparatus and method for reducing environmental fluctuations in an environmentally controlled chamber, which can occur with accessing the chamber from an external or differently maintained environment.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Drug discovery and many of the methods used in the process are slowly becoming automated. This increase in automation is used as an attempt to get drugs to the market place faster. However, the automation has created at least a number of issues in laboratories throughout the world. The first is that space is at an all time premium so the ability to expand storage and have the storage conform to the available lab space is essential in offering a unit that can be expanded at a later date. The second issue is that with the increasing amount of automation in drug discovery, more and more experiments are being run in a much shorter period of time resulting in a proliferation of sample containing plates that require short term storage and incubation for temporal analysis.

One of the methods available to decrease the time associated with drug discovery is to use machines that automatically perform protein crystallography and collect the related data. Protein crystallography requires maintaining test samples or materials within an environment or chamber having a high degree of temperature uniformity. Generally, crystallography machines include an access door from which test samples may be accessed by, for example, a robotic arm or user. Where it is necessary to repeatedly access the storage area in order to replenish or test the sample materials, repeated opening and closing of the access door may be required. Repeatedly opening the access door may cause temperature fluctuations in the chamber due to the recurring exposure to the ambient environment.

Accordingly, it is desirable to provide a method and apparatus that provides controlled access to materials that are accessible from at least two differently maintained environments. More specifically, a need exists to provide a method and apparatus that provides access to materials contained in a controlled environment while minimizing environmental fluctuations due to such access.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The foregoing needs are met, to a great extent, by the present invention, wherein in one aspect an apparatus and method is provided that in some embodiments permits access to materials contained in a controlled environment while minimizing environmental fluctuations due to such access.

In accordance with one embodiment of the present invention, a storage device can be located within an environmentally controlled chamber. The storage device can be accessible from within the environmentally controlled chamber as well as from an environment exterior to the storage device. Because of the configuration of the storage device, the environment exterior to the storage device can have a minimal impact on the environmentally controlled chamber. The storage device comprises a first door and a second door spaced relative to one another so as to define a storage area therebetween. Each of the first and second doors has an open position to permit access to the storage area and a closed position so as to enclose the storage area. The first door is preferably linked to the second door such that placing first door is in the open position places the second door is in the closed position and placing the first door is in the closed position places the second door is in the open position.

In another embodiment, the storage device can have a member disposed within the storage area, for example, free standing relative to the storage area by way of a cantilever connection to the first door. The member can be connected to the first and second doors such that moving the first door from the closed position to the open position displaces the member relative to the storage area so as to displace the second door relative to the member in which the second door is preferably displaced or pivoted from the open position to the closed position. More preferably, the member is configured so that it can be displaced to a position outside the storage area through an opening defined by the first door. The storage device can further include a plate having a pivot connection to the member. The plate can comprise a link configured such that the second door and plate are limited to rotational movement about the member. In addition, the member can be configured to hold at least one container within the storage area. In yet another embodiment of the storage device according to the present invention, the storage area can include at least one sensor configured to locate the position of the member relative to the storage area.

In another preferred embodiment, the storage device can further comprise a housing having an inner chamber and an opening in communication with the inner chamber. A connector can be provided for connecting the storage device to the housing such that when the second door is in the open position, the inner chamber is in communication with the storage area, and when the second door is in the closed position, the inner chamber is at least partially enclosed from the storage area by the second door. In addition, the inner chamber can define an inner chamber temperature. When the second door is in the open position, the storage area can have a storage area temperature substantially equal to the inner chamber temperature, and when the second door is in the closed position, the inner chamber temperature can remain substantially constant and the storage area temperature can be variable. In a preferred embodiment the inner chamber temperature can range from about 4° C. to about 40° C.

In yet another embodiment, a storage device according to the present invention can comprise an assembly means defining a storage area therein and including first means for providing access to and enclosing the storage area and second means for providing access to and enclosing the storage area. The first means can be linked to the second means such that accessing the storage area by the first means encloses the storage area by the second means and enclosing the storage area by the first means provides access to the storage area by the second means. In a preferred embodiment, the storage device can further comprise container means for holding a material within the storage area. The first, second and container means can be linked together such that accessing the storage area by the first means displaces the container means so as to enclose the storage area by the second means.

A method of accessing a container within a storage device according to an embodiment of the present invention comprises providing an assembly having a first door and a second door spaced relative to the first door so as to define a storage area therebetween with the first door linked to the second door. A member can also be provided to hold the container in the storage area. The method further comprises placing the first door in the open position so as to place the second door is in the closed position and accessing the container in the storage area wherein the access is limited to access by the first door. Alternatively the method can comprise placing the first door in the closed position so as to place the second door in the open position and accessing the container in the storage area wherein access is limited to access by the second door. In a preferred embodiment of the invention can include determining the position of the container relative to the storage area.

There has thus been outlined, rather broadly, certain embodiments of the invention in order that the detailed description thereof herein may be better understood, and in order that the present contribution to the art may be better appreciated. There are, of course, additional embodiments of the invention that will be described below and which will form the subject matter of the claims appended hereto.

In this respect, before explaining at least one embodiment of the invention in detail, it is to be understood that the invention is not limited in its application to the details of construction and to the arrangements of the components set forth in the following description or illustrated in the drawings. The invention is capable of embodiments in addition to those described and of being practiced and carried out in various ways. Also, it is to be understood that the phraseology and terminology employed herein, as well as the abstract, are for the purpose of description and should not be regarded as limiting.

As such, those skilled in the art will appreciate that the conception upon which this disclosure is based may readily be utilized as a basis for the designing of other structures, methods and systems for carrying out the several purposes of the present invention. It is important, therefore, that the claims be regarded as including such equivalent constructions insofar as they do not depart from the spirit and scope of the present invention.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is an isometric view showing a storage device according to the present invention attached to an exemplary crystallization machine;

FIG. 2 is one embodiment of an isometric view a storage device according to the present invention;

FIG. 3 is a detailed top view of the storage device of FIG. 2 having a front door in the closed position;

FIG. 4 a detailed top view of the storage device of FIG. 2 with the front door in the open position;

FIG. 5 is a detailed bottom view of the storage device of FIG. 2 with the front door in the closed position; and

FIG. 6 is a detailed bottom view of the storage device of FIG. 2 with the front door in the open position.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

The invention will now be described with reference to the drawing figures, in which like reference numerals refer to like parts throughout. An embodiment in accordance with the present invention provides an apparatus and method by which access is granted to an internal storage area which can be configured to hold materials for later use or processing. The apparatus of the present invention provides at least two points of entry through which access to the storage area may be obtained. The entry points can be provided with enclosures which are configured in such a manner so as to limit access to the storage area. Moreover, the apparatus and its enclosures may be configured so as to control the environment within and around the storage area.

For example, shown in FIG. 1 is an illustrative embodiment of a storage device 10 according to the present invention attached and employed in an incubation or protein crystallization machine 2 (shown in part) having an interior chamber 4 (not shown). The interior chamber 4 of the crystallization machine 2 can provide for a controlled environment, for example, a temperature controlled environment in which test samples can be housed. The storage device 10 can provide a storage space or area 12 into which test samples may be placed and made accessible to the environment outside the crystallization machine 2. In addition, the storage device 10 can be configured so as to shield the controlled environment of the interior chamber 4 from, for example, the ambient temperature of the environment external to the crystallization machine 2. Moreover, storage device 10 can be configured so as to provide controlled communication between the interior chamber 4 of the crystallization machine and the storage area 12 and between the storage area 12 and the, for example, ambient environment outside the crystallization machine 2 and the storage device 10.

FIG. 2 is an illustrative embodiment of the storage device 10 according to the present invention shown in isometric view. The storage device 10 can include a door assembly 14 having a first or front door 16, a second or rear door 18 and a wall or frame 20 to which the front and rear doors 16, 18 can be attached. The front door 16 and the rear door 18 are configured and positioned relative to one another so as to define the storage area 12 therebetween into which test samples or other materials may be located for later access and use. The front door 16 can be disposed relative to the rear door 18 where, for example, the face of rear door 18 is substantially orthogonal or adjacent to the face of the front door 16 when the front door is in the open position. As seen in FIG. 1, the frame 20 and the front door 16 define an opening 21 in communication with the storage area 12. Each of the front and rear doors 16, 18 have an open position providing access to the storage area and a closed position to enclose at least a portion of the storage area 12. More specifically the front door 16 can provide access to or enclose the storage area 12 so as to place the storage area 12 in controlled communication with an environment external to the crystallization machine 2.

The rear door 18 can also be configured to provide controlled communication between the same or different environment exterior to the storage device 10. More specifically, the rear door 18 can be configured such that in the open position, the rear door provides an alternative access to the storage area 12 from an environment external to the storage device 10. The rear door 18 can be further configured such that in the closed position, the rear door can 18 at least partially enclose the storage area 12 from the environment external to the storage device 10. The storage device 10 can further include a connector 30 for connecting the storage device 10 to another housing or device, for example, a crystallization machine 2 as previously described. The storage device 10 and the connector 30 can be configured so as to facilitate attachment of the storage device 10 to another housing by any means known in the art, for example, by bolting, welding, pin rivets, etc.

In one embodiment of storage device 10, the front door 16 can be linked to the rear door 18. More specifically, the front door 16 is linked to the rear door 18 such that when the front door 16 is in the open position the rear door 18 is placed in the closed position and when the front door 16 is in the closed position the rear door 18 is placed in the open position. It is to be understood that the front door 16 can be linked directly or indirectly to the rear door 18. Moreover, the front door 16 can be linked to the rear door 18 by mechanical means, electrical means, pneumatic means or any combination thereof. For example, the front door 16 can be interlocked with the rear door 18 by switches, sensors and/or motors configured such that when the front door 16 is in the open position the rear door 18 is placed in the closed position and when the front door 16 is in the closed position the rear door 18 is placed in the open position.

Again referring to FIG. 2, the storage device 10 can include a member 26 disposed within the storage area 12. As shown, the member 26 can be connected to the front door 16 by a first or lower linkage 22. Preferably, the member 26 is connected to the front door 16 such that moving the front door 16 from the closed position to the open position displaces the member 26 relative to the storage area 12 in a direction substantially orthogonal to frame 20. For example, the connector 30 can include a sliding rail 32, roller or other system connected to the member 26 configured to provide for linear movement of the member 26 relative to the storage area 12. As the front door 16 is placed in the open position, the lower link 22 pulls the member 26 such that member 26 slides along the sliding rail 32 in a direction toward the front door 16. Alternatively, the member 26 can be connected to the rail system 32 independent of the front door 16 such that, for example, the member 26 can be directly manually operated or pulled along the rail 32.

The member 26 can be connected to the rear door 18 such that the rear door 18 is permitted to move relative to or pivot about the member 26 between the open and closed positions. For example, the rear door 18 can include a plate 34 having a pivot connection 28 to the member 26. The motion of the rear door 18 can be further restrained or controlled by a second or upper linkage 24 attached to the frame 20 and the rear door 18. Alternatively, the linkage 24 can be fixed to any stationary point within the storage device 10. The upper linkage 24 can restrict rear door 18 such that when member 26 is linearly displaced by moving the front door 16 from the open position to the closed position, the rear door 18 is restricted so as to pivot about the member 26 from the open position to the closed position. Alternatively, the interconnection between the member 26 and the rear door 18 can be configured in any manner so long as it provides upon the displacement of the member 26 that the rear door 18 moves from the open position to the closed position. Such alternative interconnection can depend on the configuration of the rear door 18, for example, where the rear door 18 either pivots about a separate stationary member or where the rear door 18 slides or linearly moves between open and closed positions.

Shown in FIGS. 3 and 4 are top views of the storage device 10 with the front door 16 in the closed and open positions respectively. Seen in FIG. 3, the front door 16 is in an initially closed position to shield the storage area 12 from the environment external to the storage device 10, the rear door 18 is in an initially open position, and the member 26 is positioned at an initial point along the rail system 32. In one embodiment, the front door 16 can be configured so as to at least partially close off the storage area 12 from the external environment. Alternatively, the front door 16 can be configured so as to seal off the storage area 12, for example, by providing an air tight seal. With the front door 16 in a closed position, the storage area 12 and the member 26 are accessible from an environment external to the storage device 10 through an opening 11 defined by the rear door 18. Accordingly, where for example, storage device 10 is connected to crystallization machine 2, the rear door 18 and the opening 11 are positioned relative to the interior chamber 4 of crystallization machine 2, so as to place the storage area 12 in communication with the interior chamber 4.

Moving from FIG. 3 to FIG. 4, the front door 16 is moved from the closed position to the open position thus displacing the member 26 along the rail system 32 by the lower linkage 22. Preferably, the rail system 32 is configured so as to permit at least a portion of the member 26 to pass through the opening 21 of the frame 20. Accordingly, the environment external to the storage area 12 is permitted to access the storage area 12 through the opening 21. The rear door 18 being connected to the member 26 by the pivot connection 28 and the plate 34 is also displaced with the member 26 along the rail system 32. The upper linkage 24 restrains displacement of the rear door 18 such that the rear door 18 is also pivoted about member 26 from the open position to the closed position. The plate 34 can be configured with a slot 35 to permit the linear and rotational displacement of the rear door 18. Accordingly, in the closed position, the rear door 18 can enclose storage area 12 at opening 11 from any environment external to storage device 10. In one embodiment, the rear door 18 can be configured to at least partially enclose the storage area 12 from the external environment. Alternatively, the rear door 18 can be configured to seal off the storage area 12, for example, by providing an air tight seal to the storage area 12. Thus, where, for example, the storage device 10 is connected to a crystallization machine 2, the interior chamber 4 of crystallization machine 2 is shielded by the rear door 18 from the external environment entering the storage area 12 through the opening 21 of the frame 20. Shown in FIGS. 5 and 6 are bottom views of the storage device 10 with the front door 16 in the closed and open positions respectively. More specifically shown is the displacement of the member 26 relative to the storage area 12 upon moving the front door 16 from the closed position to the open position.

The member 26 can be further configured to hold a sample of material within the storage area 12. According to one embodiment of the present invention, the member 26 can include a container to hold a sample. Alternatively, the member 26 can be configured with a plurality of containers to hold discrete samples of materials. For example, as seen in FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, the member 26 can include a plurality of plates 40 each having a compartment or container 42 so as to form a collective storage rack or hotel 44. In an embodiment where the hotel 44 is connected to the front door 16 by the lower link 22, placing the front door 16 in an open position displaces the hotel 44 with respect to the storage area 12 such that at least a portion of the plates 40 pass through the opening 21 of the frame 20 for presentation to the external environment to be accessed or used. The storage device 10 can also include one or more side plates 48 to support the hotel 44.

In an embodiment where, for example, the storage device 10 is employed with an environmentally controlled housing, such as for example, a crystallization machine 2, it may be of interest to precisely locate the hotel 44 or more specifically to locate where an individual plate 40 or container 42 is located within the storage area 12. Accordingly, the storage device 10 can include at least one sensor 46, as seen in FIG. 6, to locate the position of hotel 44 relative to the front door 16, the rear door 18 or any other portion of storage device 10. The sensor 46 can be any sensor or collection of sensors known in the art for determining position of an object in a reference system. For example, the crystallization machine 2 can include a robotic system to transfer samples from within the interior chamber 4 to the hotel 44 through the opening 11 defined by the rear door 18 so as to be made accessible to a technician or user through the front door 16 and the opening 21 defined by the frame 20. The robotic system can be, for example, coupled to the sensor 46 to determine the location of any given plate 40 or container 42. In another embodiment, the member 26 can be configured so as to be free standing relative to the storage area 12. Specifically, referring back to FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, the lower linkage 22 can be configured so as te act as a rail bearing or cantilever beam connected to the front door 16 from which the member 26 can be freely suspended relative to storage area 12.

In an embodiment where the storage device 10 is connected to an environmentally controlled housing or crystallization machine 2 such that the rear door 18 controls communication between the interior chamber 4 and the storage area 12, the front and/or the rear door 16, 18 can be configured so as to control the heat transfer between the storage area 12 and the interior chamber 4. More specifically, the interior chamber 4 can be maintained such that it defines an interior chamber temperature preferably ranging from about 0° C. and 50° C. and more preferably from about 4° C. to about 40° C. The front and/or the rear doors 16, 18 can be made of a material that minimizes heat transfer between the storage area 12 and the interior chamber 4 and between the storage area 12 and the external or ambient environment. In addition, the front door 16 and/or the rear door 18 can be insulated, for example, by being constructed from double pane glass. Moreover, the front and/or rear doors 16, 18 can be heated by a heat source so as to minimize the build up of condensate on the front and rear doors 16, 18 due to temperature differences between the storage area 12, the interior chamber 4 and the external environment. The frame 20 and other associated components of the storage device 10 can be constructed from aluminum or any other material known in the art for container construction.

In an embodiment where a user may need to physically interact with the storage area 12, for example, to access the hotel 44, the front and/or the rear doors 16, 18 can be constructed from a transparent or translucent material which can permit a user to see into the storage area 12 without opening the front door 16, or alternatively, to see into the interior chamber 4 without opening the rear door 18. Generally, the front and the rear doors 16, 18 can be dimensioned and configured so as to suit space requirements for a particular application. For example, referring to FIG. 3 where storage device 10 is connected to a housing or crystallization machine 2 having an interior chamber 4, the rear door 18 is radial or arcuate in shape to minimize space requirements for the storage device 10 while maximizing storage space in the interior chamber 4 for the process of samples.

Although examples of the apparatus and method is shown being used in a crystallization machine, it will be appreciated that the apparatus and method can be used in other applications. Also, although the apparatus and method is useful to maintain controlled environments in the biotech industry it can also be used to do other things and/or in other industries.

The many features and advantages of the invention are apparent from the detailed specification, and thus, it is intended by the appended claims to cover all such features and advantages of the invention which fall within the true spirit and scope of the invention. Further, since numerous modifications and variations will readily occur to those skilled in the art, it is not desired to limit the invention to the exact construction and operation illustrated and described, and accordingly, all suitable modifications and equivalents may be resorted to, falling within the scope of the invention.