The dirt on the “clean room”
By Lorraine Forster
THEY ARE DOING EVIL THINGS... The entrance to Western’s Research
Park looms eerily on the landscape.
As many Western students living away from their parents can attest, a “clean
room” is often a foreign concept. In the Photonics and Nanotechnology
Laboratory in the Western Research Park, however, a “clean room” is
It has become the site for several investigations into the structure and behaviour
of nature’s building blocks — molecules and atoms. The studies
conducted there have revolutionized the computing and biotechnology fields
by using state-of-the-art instruments to build machines only billionths of
metres in size.
The studies use nanotechnology as the basis of microscopic study. Nanotechnology
is used to study structures and devices at the sub-micron scale, the information
found in these studies allow researchers the capacity to produce more computing
power through the use of increasingly smaller circuitry.
The clean room becomes the crucial setting for these studies, because its
air is more than 100 times cleaner than regular air. This is important because
if even one 50-micron speck of dust attaches itself to an object under the
microscope, the object looks altered. In order to harvest clean air, the clean
room is equipped with a special ventilation system that delivers ultra-spotless
air, and researchers are required to wear special gowns and masks at all times.
The possible results of research seem to be straight out of a science fiction
movie. Many have talked about the possibilities of things such as tiny electric
brains and disease-fighting, self-replicating robots swimming in human bloodstreams.
While some researchers may be working towards such seemingly futuristic structures,
for most of the researchers at Western, the focus is on increasing computer
speed and power.
While the idea of tiny robots swimming in human bloodstreams seems farfetched,
researchers say this phenomenon already takes place everyday. Our tissue is
made up of tiny cells, and when cells migrate to a wound to form a blood clot,
it’s as if they are acting like tiny robots.
Along with the untainted air, special equipment is used to work towards breakthroughs