These pages cover education related tutorials, articles, vacuum training hardware and various projects that should be of interest to the educator


The history of vacuum teaching apparatus goes back to the 1600s. In the nineteenth and through most of the twentieth centuries the common configuration was a pump (hand or motor driven), a glass belljar and baseplate, and perhaps a mercury manometer or other gauge. In the 1980s Edwards High Vacuum introduced an educational package consisting of a small diffusion pump and a set of accessories appropriate for the physics lecture hall and lab.

In the 1990s a number of two year colleges in USA began to introduce formal curricula to pre-pare students for process and equipment support positions in semiconductor factories. The "standard" curriculum has included one to two semesters on vacuum and plasma processes. The focus has expanded to include related areas such as nanotechnology and other fields that require advanced manufacturing techniques. A gathering ground for information and curricula at that time was the Maricopa Advanced Technology Education Center (MATEC) in Phoenix, AZ.

Beginning in the mid 1990s two companies have been prominent in the supply of vacuum education packages to the colleges, Varian Vacuum and MKS Instruments. The MKS offering was called the VTS-1A (Vacuum Training System). MKS, in cooperation with Manitou Systems also provided a system specifically designed for training in sputter deposition and RF (the Plasma Process Training System PPTS-1A). By 2010 both companies had ceased supporting dedicated training systems.

The next company to provide training hardware and support materials was The Science Source and its Daedalon unit. The VPAL-A (Vacuum Priniciples and Applications Lab) was offered from about 2007 until 2015 when the company was sold to another entity that did not want the vacuum training products.

Maintaining a consistent presence in vacuum training at the high school level has been The American Vacuum Society and its Science Educators Workshop. The program, begun in 1990, accepts teachers from the USA and Canada to the 2-day program and each teacher receives a grant for a simple vacuum system for their school.

Purpose of these Pages

As an Archive: With hundreds of commercial vacuum training systems in the field, this site will serve as an archive for information about these systems.

Support: I drove the design, development, marketing and support of the MKS and TSS vacuum trainers. I can assist with obsolescense issues, sourcing of replacement parts, modifications, etc.

New Equipment, Exercises and Approaches: Over the years, a number of add-ones, variations, accessories, etc. were developed but never publicized or marketed. Near term plans include:

  • A very capable but minimal cost basic vacuum trainer that can be assembled by teachers, students or at home with simple materials and tools. This will include complete exercise documentation with data from the prototype equipment.

  • A new training system with a set of modular extensions. This will follow the general approach of the VPAL-A but with a substantial and growing list of added capabilities. These will include full PID control, flow sensing and gas analysis.

  • Documentation for a variety of simple devices that can be used with any vacuum system for classroom demonstations and student exercises.

General Information

Tutorial: Vacuum Principles and Applications

Vacuum Principles and Applications is a concise 66 page document covering the important aspects of vacuum technology and its uses. It was written in 2007 and was provided with the VPAL-A vacuum trainer.

Articles on Vacuum Training
Here are two relevant articles from Vacuum Technology and Coating magazine.

Vacuum Training for Manufacturing: Why and How. Published in the October 2001 issue.

Vacuum Equipment for Education. Published in the March 2010 issue. The text has been updated with end notes (July 2019) and corrections to the web links.

Information on Legacy Commercial Training Systems for
Vacuum Technology and Related Processes

MKS Instruments VTS-1B Vacuum Training System

MKS Instruments PPTS-1A Plasma Process Training System

The Science Source VPAL-A Vacuum Principles and Applications Laboratory

Information on Supplemental Apparatus

Accessories and Projects

Experiments in Thermal Conductivity and Mean Free Path: Inspired by the work of Dr. Bruce Kendall of Pennsylvania State University, the 3 documeants listed below cover the use of model engine glow plugs to demonstrate how molecular mean free path plays into the operation of the Pirani gauge and how the apparatus may be used to determine the diameter of an "air" molecule.

Hot Wires and Fast Molecules - A Different Look at Pirani Gauges: This article was originally published in Vacuum Technology and Coating in April 2012. Ir covers the theory of the Pirani gauge and general inforamtion on the experimental apparatus.

Experiments in Thermal Conductivity and Mean Free Path - Notes on the Required Equipment: This set of notes covers the details of construction of the apparatus.

Experiments in Thermal Conductivity and Mean Free Path: This document covers the procedure and is designed as a student exercise.

Notes on interfacing the MKS 925 MicroPirani Gauge Analog and RS232 Ports : The MKS 925 is a wide range MEMS Pirani gauge. It was the primary vacuum gauge for the VPAL-A vacuum trainer. This document describes how to build a simple interface cable along with detailed instructions for using the 925 with the MKS set up and datalogging software and with the Vernier Differential Voltage Probe. Originally published in 2007 as part of the VPAL-A manual it has been updated to include additional details. The 925 remains a widely used vacuum gauge and MKS has added a number of features including a local display and other interface options. The interface is also compatible with other products in the MKS 900 series including the 902 MEMS diaphragm gauge.

925 MicroPirani Interfacing

Two DIY Vacuum Trainers

A Very Basic Vacuum Trainer (the BVES)

BVES stands for Basic Vacuum Education System. If you think not too much can be accomplished with a hand pumped vacuum demonstration system, think again. Originally prototyped in 2006, this unit was never commercially marketed. Details, construction information and a host of exercises are available on the BVES page. There are reasons for the high aspect ratio chamber.

An Updated VPAL
A complete upgrade of the VPAL was in progress when The Science Source was sold. Features included an upgraded (and more flexible) base along with provisions for closed loop PID control and high vacuum. The base is simple to construct using hand tools and a small drill press. The photographs below, dating from 2012, show the base with a plastic bell jar chamber and the base with indirect and direct reading pressure gauges, a mass flow controller and (partially shown) a simple sputter deposition chamber.

More to Come!

Simple evaporation and sputter deposition equipment, a Hittorf (detour) tube, Crookes radiometer that can be
connected to a vacuum system, Magdeburg hemispheres and much more.

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