Thursday, June 25, 2015

Suit Up


You know that moment in the movies where the protagonist sees something really amazing? The shot gets really wide and you just see the main character standing there with their silhouette and everything they see in front of them? It’s a surprise, a pleasant one that kind of takes their breath away at least for a moment. Well, that’s how I felt as Evelien Mathieu, my supervisor, lead me through the labs in imec.

It sounds corny, I know, but after two days of delays in Newark Liberty Airport I started to get nervous about the prospect of spending 10 weeks in Leuven. I felt like maybe these thunderstorms and flight cancellations were foreshadowing. So when I actually arrived, about 48 hours late, everything seemed to look better.

Initially my time at imec started off slow; adapting to the work environment, learning which floors led to the neuroelectronics lab and which ones led to the warehouse, taking safety training. Then the real work began. We started working on a project that combines lens free imaging and cell migration in microfluidic devices. It consists of three big steps: 1. fabrication of PDMS microfluidic devices in the cleanroom, 2. preparation and seeding of cells in the neuroelectronics lab and 3. imaging of cells using a lens free microscope.

Let’s start with step 1. imec has two state of the art clean rooms, one is class 1 area and the other class 1000 area. The main cleanroom I work in to fabricate devices is class 1 area, which amazingly has one 0.5μm particle per m3. In order to maintain this ultra clean environment everyone has to “suit up” before entering. This entails steel capped shoes, hairnets and a bunny suit in addition to your standard personal protective equipment. Once you’ve got all the gear on you can now proceed to the fabrication area.

Some very trendy steel capped shoes
When you first walk in you can be a little taken aback, the combination of extra suit and the positive pressure makes moving at first a little slow. But you get used to it by the time you arrive in the fabrication area. Both of imec’s cleanrooms are amazing. Tech companies like Dutch ASML, German Aixtron and American Applied Materials use the class 1000 cleanroom to develop semiconductor technologies, while the class 1 is used for lower volume fabrication and production.

To conduct our experiments we need to create PDMS devices with various microchannel designs using a master silicon wafer. From there we cut the devices and adhere them to glass in preparation for imaging. The whole procedure takes more than 24 hours and requires we to suit up about three to four separate times.

While it seems like a hassle, it is really incredible to be able to use new tools that leaders in the bio and nano-tech industries use, and in small way contribute to R&D at imec. Plus it’s pretty cool to get up in the morning, go to work and rock a different kind of suit.

FAB 1-Cleanroom Entry Way
---Victoria Laney

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