Friday, 7 March 2014

Cleanroom inventor to enter Hall of Fame

The inventor of the modern cleanroom, Willis Whitfield, will be honored posthumously by the National Inventors Hall of Fame for a technology that revolutionized manufacturing in electronics and pharmaceuticals, made hospital operating rooms safer and advanced space exploration.

The inventor of the modern cleanroom, Willis Whitfield, will be honored posthumously by the National Inventors Hall of Fame for a technology that revolutionized manufacturing in electronics and pharmaceuticals, made hospital operating rooms safer and advanced space exploration.

Whitfield, the son of Texas cotton farmers who became a physicist, retired from Albuquerque’s Sandia National Laboratories in 1984 and died Nov. 12, 2012, shortly after the laminar-flow cleanroom invention’s 50th anniversary. With slight modifications, his invention is still the standard.

Whitfield’s solution was to constantly flush out or “sweep” a room with highly filtered air. In an initial model, Whitfield designed a workbench along one wall. Clean air entered the room from a bank of filters that were 99.97 percent efficient in removing particles larger than 0.3 microns. For example, cigarette smoke blown in one side comes out the other as clean air.

The air was circulated in the room at a rate of 4,000 cubic feet or about 10 changes of air per minute. The resulting linear speed of the air is slightly more than 1 mph, which is about the same as that felt walking through a still room.

In a later modification, the air was passed down over the work area instead of across, letting gravity help carry troublesome particles into the floor, which was covered with grating. Filters underneath clean the air and it is circulated back around to re-enter the room.

When Whitfield announced the invention in 1962, researchers and industrialists did not immediately take to it, but within a few short years, $50 billion worth of laminar-flow cleanrooms were built worldwide and Whitfield had been dubbed “Mr. Clean” by TIME Magazine.

Based on a report from PhysOrg

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