March 25, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 92  

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The dirt on the “clean room”

By Lorraine Forster
Gazette Staff

Aaron Lynett/Gazette
MAYBE 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 a reality.

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 in nanotechnology.



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