Lab’s new equipment advances research

By Michelle Fredrickson, Voiland College of Engineering & Architecture

cleanroom-smallPULLMAN, Wash. – Dust particles don’t stand a chance in Washington State University’s cleanroom, one of only three in the state.

Filters throughout the lab maintain the environment to 1,000 particles or less per cubic foot. Sticky mats in the entry room and the full protective gear that must be worn to enter help minimize contaminants inside.

“It’s dust-free, essentially,” said lab manager Joshah Jennings. “When people are working on the micron scale, even the tiniest particle can be very detrimental.’’

Machine deposits films in atom-thick layers

Dave Field, associate dean of WSU’s Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture, uses the cleanroom to build multi-layer metal and ceramic films in order to create a strong, corrosion-resistant material for use in the oil and gas industry.

The new layer depositing machine, right, in the cleanroom.

While researchers generally understand how bulk materials behave, there is still a lot to be learned about thin films. Last month, the lab obtained a new atomic layer deposition machine, which can deposit material coatings in layers the thickness of a single atom.

Funding for the machine came through a collaborative effort from the Voiland College, the WSU Office of Research, the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, the College of Arts and Sciences, the departments of chemistry and physics and the Center for Materials Research.

Field also grows carbon nanotubes, which are exceptionally strong but very small structures. He and his students are attempting to grow longer nanotubes that retain their high levels of strength.

Students get unique training, job experience

Working with the cleanroom’s high-tech equipment provides a valuable hands-on learning experience that students can’t get in the classroom.

“The cleanroom is convenient for students,” said Field, “because the next closest facility is located in Seattle.

“We’re a university,” he said. “We’re here to train students.”

And this training makes students more marketable when they look for jobs.

“Companies like Micron, HP and Intel have hired our students because of their work experience in the cleanroom,” Jennings said.