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Sandia Lab Celebrates Inventor of the Modern Clean Room 42

coondoggie writes "Sandia National Laboratories physicist Willis Whitfield, 92, passed away earlier this month and left a technological legacy that continues to reverberate today: The legendary clean room. The original laminar-flow 10 x 6 clean room developed 50 years ago by Whitfield was more than 1,000 times cleaner than any cleanrooms used at the time and ultimately revolutionized microelectronics, healthcare and manufacturing development. According to Sandia, with slight modifications, it is still the clean room standard today."
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Sandia Lab Celebrates Inventor of the Modern Clean Room

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  • by uvajed_ekil ( 914487 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @04:12AM (#42103235)
    You'll find no Sandia-derived technology in MY house, I can assure you.
    • by Nyder ( 754090 )

      You'll find no Sandia-derived technology in MY house, I can assure you.

      nor in my mom's basement...

    • Well some of it is pretty cool: the Sandia cooler []

      Btw. anyone know what happened to above tech? Seemed very promising, has been a while since announced, but so far I haven't seen any commercial products built around this...?

      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        Well some of it is pretty cool: the Sandia cooler

        Btw. anyone know what happened to above tech? Seemed very promising, has been a while since announced, but so far I haven't seen any commercial products built around this...?

        Probably very small very niche market. It sounds like a great heatsink and fan combination, but considering you can get them quite cheaply nowadays, licensing this technology doesn't appear to get you much over a traditional heatsink and fan. At least not for commodity PCs and such.

        I'm su

    • by Bomazi ( 1875554 )

      You will after a nuclear war.

    • by antdude ( 79039 )

      Ditto in my home, especially my rooms with computers. My parents think I am a dust magnet with them. :( Is there a home version of a clean room technology? Air filters don't seem to work.

  • Ah! Those old engineers who actually invented something. Something that in some small ways forms part of the bedrock of our modern society.

    I wonder what kind of bedrock our generation is giving to the future. Something tells me that iDinks and Apps are not going to be driving industry in 50 years time.

  • "clean" rooms (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pinguwin ( 807635 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @08:48AM (#42104301)
    I used to work for a company that made microchip inspection machines and they had a "clean" room. Things go so unclean that everyone in the building had to have a re-education class in clean room even if there was no chance they would ever be in one. It was that bad. People wouldn't wipe their feet, wear masks, hair covers, etc. But what I think really, really pushed management over the edge and require classes for *everyone* was people were not only eating potato chips in there but leaving the wrappers. That, was the last straw.
  • It's gonna be hard to dig any dirt on him.

  • by BetterSense ( 1398915 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:56AM (#42104859)
    Cleanrooms are pretty much dead technology. I work in one of the few large-scale 'real' cleanrooms left (100k+ square feet at class <10), which was built in the mid 90s.

    200mm wafers were small enough for people to carry around and material handling robots were less advanced, so it made sense to make the entire fab into laminar-flow cleanroom and have people carry wafers around exposed to the air. This is obviously absurdly expensive, given the square footage of HEPA filters and sheer air-moving horsepower needed.

    Now, a full lot of 300mm wafers is too heavy for a person to carry around all day, cleanliness standards are higher, and material handling robots are cheap enough to replace humans. The new fabs store all wafers in sealed plastic FOUPs which are robotically delivered to each process tool. Only the inside of the positively-pressurized process tools has to be truly clean. The big squirrel-cage VLF fans have been replaced by an array of axial fans covering the roof that can be individually tweaked and adjusted to optimize airflow and power.

    Companies still pretend it's a cleanroom and force people to wear smocks out of habit, but most of them are only held to class 10,000 or so, which is cleaner than your living room but not clean enough to make wafers in, without the FOUPs.
    • by jonwil ( 467024 )

      I would suspect they still use clean-rooms for all sorts of other things where even the tiniest bit of dust could cause problems during manufacture (like space probes to other planets where the tiniest bit of earth dust or life could contaminate whatever planet the probe is aimed at)

      • by Herve5 ( 879674 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @10:47AM (#42105339)

        indeed, in space technology, you definitely use cleanrooms everyday, class 10,000 or more for 'ordinary' telecom satellites, but as low as class 100 for everything optics (military or civilian).
        And I can tell you, class 100, it's something.
        In my factory we have a variable-class optics integration room, hundred metres sized, where a constant laminar airflow going from left to right actually separates one class-100 end, on one side, from the other end which stays 10,000 -a nice trick that allows you designer to enter the room without turning into a cosmonaut, and quietly discuss the instrument integration details with the actual cosmonaut, almost face to face, just separated by 15m of (clean) air...

    • Cleanrooms are pretty much dead technology.

      My brain surgeon begs to differ with you...

      • As we have been discussing, there is no such thing as 'clean'. It's a matter of 'how clean'. Anyone can put up some HEPA filters and say they have a 'clean room'.

        What are the cleanliness standards for brain surgery? I would be surprised if it's very high. After all, you could line up a dozen modern transistors on top of a typical bacterium.
    • So you think cleanrooms are dead technology because the next iteration and advancement of clean room tech doesn't follow the exact same path? All you are describing is clean room compartmentalization and automation. We stand on the shoulders of giants, this new tech stands on the sholders of Willis.

      • My point was that cleanroom technology has hit its peak and is not advancing. We will never see 250,0000 square foot class .01 cleanrooms. It is an arms race that has been abandoned for good reason.

        I also think that Moore's law is dead; I don't think that means computers are obsolete now.
        • Maybe so, but you kinda just ranted randomly about it like a cynic, and it came across as if you were trying to downplay the man's acheivement and the role it has served us. Fairly misplaced and poorly timed.

          • I appreciate the critique. I am always looking for input on my internet technique, and will try to do better in the future.
    • by blind biker ( 1066130 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @01:40PM (#42106909) Journal

      That's true for production cleanrooms, but not for research cleanrooms. I think we'll see even more of the latter, in the future.

      I happen to work in one of the largest research cleanrooms in the world, BTW. 28000 square feet.

    • by retep ( 108840 )

      How is the equipment that handles the FOUPs assembled? I assume in a cleanroom, or is in-situ cleaning good enough that you can still do maintenance in a class 10,000 room then after maintenance clean the tool to the required class 10 standards?

      • The latter. Most process tools have their own positive-pressure air purification system with their own HEPA filters constantly purging at least the small bit of atmosphere in the tool that the wafers are exposed to in between the FOUP and the process chamber. After opening the tool for maintenance you simply allow some time for it to purge and then run your best particle-check test and if it comes out clean you figure it's good. The process chamber itself, whether it's a wet process or a thermal/plasma proc
  • by judoguy ( 534886 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @10:22AM (#42105103) Homepage
    My father was an engineer for Western Electric and I remember him telling me many years ago about a MIG pilot that defected with the plane. Our guys were surprised to find that the advanced fighter used tubes in it's avionics. It was determined that the Soviets couldn't put together a good enough clean room to produce chips.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"