Overalls on and into the cleanroom! Students get a guided tour of micro- and nanotechnology from top experts
They got to trial out the real thing in the Micronova research centre’s cleanroom, where both scientific investigation and product development are carried out.
There is some hustle and bustle in the winding corridor leading to the cleanroom as a group of upper secondary school students moves from one protective equipment stage to the next. The process of putting on the shoes, hair nets, mouth guard, overalls, gloves and protective glasses isn’t yet quite as smooth for the students as it is for the researchers arriving at their workplace. The dressing instructions must be followed carefully because the cleanroom is used for working with micro- and nano-sized components, and particles that can drop from our skin, for example, can be many times larger than the structures being worked with.
The role of micro- and nanotechnologies in the development of new products has grown significantly in recent years. In the future, it is hoped that these components, that can be as small as a hundredth or a thousandth of a millimetre, will provide solutions to many medical problems, for example. They can be used, for example, in sensors which would enable antibiotics to be transported along blood veins to that part of the body where they are needed. Led by experts from VTT and Aalto, the upper secondary school students participating on the course got to trial out basic micro-technology processes. One of the tasks, for example, was to etch a Pikachu figure onto a silicon wafer and then to change its colour from blue to yellow.
On the course, graphene was prepared from graphite using the traditional Scotch Tape method, and students also learnt about the more modern method of producing graphene through catalysis on a copper surface.
‘Getting to see the cleanroom was perhaps the coolest thing of all’, says Tiina Lahtinen from Pohjois-Tapiola Upper Secondary School (in centre of picture). Senior Scientist Sanna Arpiainen (VTT) shows the students how to analyse the thickness of the exfoliated graphene they had produced on a 300 nm thick silicon dioxide membrane. Exfoliation means that layers are removed from the graphite block using Scotch Tape, for example.
The students were given the task of etching a Pikachu figure onto the surface of the silicon wafer and then changing its colour from blue to yellow. Senior Scientist James Dekker (VTT) is holding the silicon wafer in his hand.
Because the Micronova cleanroom is used for working with micro- and nano-sized components, it is of primary importance that particles dropping from the body or carried in the breath do not escape from the protective suit. For example, a human hair can be 1000 to 100 000 times larger than the components being worked on in the cleanroom.
Top courses offer top level teaching to upper secondary school students, and their purpose is to increase interest in mathematical natural sciences and offer the students an opportunity to become familiar with the university world already during their upper secondary school studies. The courses, which cover topics such as space and satellites, biotechnology and micro- and nanotechnology, are taught by Aalto University professors, researchers and teachers. These week-long intensive courses are held in autumn and in spring.
Text and photos: Linda Koskinen