By definition a cooled incubator is a cabinet that can control its internal temperature at or below room temperature. One of the earliest ‘incubators’ known would be as used by Louis Pasteur – it is said that he used a small opening below his staircase as an incubator!
Technology of course has since vastly improved for incubation… firstly with compressor technology followed by the more recent state of the art ‘Peltier’. A Peltier element is very versatile as it can be used for heating as well as cooling offering complete temperature control. The units are more cost and energy-efficient than compressors especially when operated at ambient temperatures, and with less vibration and noise.
These days, used primarily in life sciences, incubators are used to grow microbiological cultures. They are found in hospital laboratories culturing everything from bacterial infections in blood through to tuberculosis (Mycobacterium tuberculosis).
The most common incubation temperature is 37°C for example the common E. Coli. Potable water quality microbiology looks for fecal contamination using 42°C and 44°C. For these temperatures a heated only incubator is required.
Yeasts prefer cooler temperatures, often 30°C, and Saccharomyces cerevisiae is one example used in brewing and baking. Obtaining 30°C or lower will require the combination of heating and cooling together to obtain the required temperature. These cooled incubators are able to accurately control from as low as 10°C and up to 50°C or more.
Other cooled incubators can have specific and critical applications such as the safe storage of agitated platelets used for reducing bleeding during and after surgery.
Cooled incubators have other uses, for example in the general storage and quality control of biological reagents or pharmaceuticals. Including uses in zoology, food, and cosmetics.