The University of Southampton

The cleanrooms are preparing to re-open

Published: 12 June 2020
A one way system will be in operation

The Zepler Institute for Photonics and Nanoelectronics is home to the £120m cleanrooms complex that houses the most advanced set of fabrication capabilities in the UK.

Over 350 researchers work in over 100 laboratories, offering a unique mix of expertise in established and cutting-edge technologies, combined with a wide range of equipment for micro and nanofabrication and electronic and optical characterisation across a range of facilities.

John Ure, Manager of the cleanrooms talks to us about the important work he and his team are doing to bring the facility out of hibernation and get researchers back to experimental work.

What's involved with re-opening the cleanrooms?

The cleanrooms have a lot of very sophisticated equipment that needs to be maintained with fine precision to work effectively. Our technicians and workshop staff are servicing this equipment to ensure research staff can hit the ground running the moment we re-open.

Setting up and maintaining a safe, stable environment is another crucial aspect of operation, with humidity, temperature and gas levels all needing to be controlled with great accuracy. The team has been hard at work to ensure labs are 100% safe and ready to use.

Obviously, there is an added layer of preparation involved as a result of Covid-19. Researchers will be required to attend remote induction training via MS Teams that will detail the approach being taken within the general building and individual cleanrooms to comply with all government and University Covid-19 safety protocols.

We've installed a one-way system, social distancing signage, protective screens and hand-sanitising stations, as well as an upgraded online booking system to ensure people arrive at their allocated time. Ultimately, the physical and mental wellbeing of our staff is of paramount importance.

Why is it so important to re-open the cleanrooms?

Most of us now depend on the internet for communication, work and leisure more than ever before. However, with its continued growth and the increasing use of bandwidth-hungry applications such as on-demand video, the threat of network gridlock is becoming a major concern.

Research in the cleanrooms led to the development of the optical fibres that power the internet today and current research aims to reinvent fibre optics technology and transform future fibre network performance.

Next generation photonics chips based on a range of material platforms are also being developed, often at wafer scale, as well as digital device chips at nanoscale that are all likely to outperform anything seen to date. None of this could happen without the laboratory equipment we’re so fortunate to have in the cleanrooms. It's an asset we take great pride in and use to deliver real impact in the world around us, often in collaboration with industry partners.

Research staff and PhD students have been incredibly resourceful during University closure, writing proposals, setting up new grants, publishing papers, conducting analyses and providing remote consultation, but they are eager to get back into the cleanrooms as soon as possible to return to important experimental research.

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