A new cleanroom at Aarhus University can provide knowledge about everything from lava flows in volcanoes to biomedical impacts at the nano level. Denmark’s latest cleanroom opened on Friday 9 September, and it ushers in a number of new research opportunities.
What do you get if you mix ultra-clean surroundings with the temperature of the Sun, state-of-the-art spectrometers and a team of dedicated researchers? You get an opportunity to gain new insight into the history of the Earth, biomedical processes and much more. Welcome to the cleanest place in Aarhus and the surrounding area – the brand new cleanroom at the Department of Geoscience, Aarhus University.
The work involved in setting up the new cleanroom facilities at Aarhus University formally began in 2013, when a Niels Bohr professorship was established at the Department of Geoscience. This meant a five-year grant from the Danish National Research Foundation to the American geologist Charles E. Lesher and his colleagues at the Department of Geoscience in Aarhus.
They had an opportunity to set up a new analysis centre called the Aarhus Geochemistry and Isotope Research Platform (AGiR). In recent years, the group has been working on the design, planning and final construction of the laboratory facilities.
The centre was taken into operation in summer 2016, and the ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on Friday 9 September, when the ultra-cleanroom facilities were officially inaugurated. A considerable amount of the group’s research requires working under very controlled conditions in an extremely clean laboratory, but the new facilities will do more than just benefit the geologists’ own work.
“We’ve now opened am ultra-modern research platform that can be used for a wide range of research fields, ranging from geochemistry to biochemistry, and from archaeology to petrology and nanotechnology. At the same time, we can use the facilities for education and training purposes,” says Professor Christian Tegner, Department of Geoscience, Aarhus University, who is one of the research directors in the group.
‘Washing temperature’ as hot as the Sun
Cleanrooms are essential in connection with research and studies that require extremely accurate measurements of a material’s characteristics. This means that even the slightest pollution from other particles in a room can lead to incorrect results of the measurements, thereby ruining the work. The risk of pollution from particles normally found in buildings and in the air can therefore be minimised in a cleanroom.
A number of cleanroom facilities have been established throughout Denmark in recent years, and each one has a particular focus area. The new cleanroom facilities in Aarhus stand out for being built with absolutely metal-free requirements. This means that door handles, paintwork, dust and other items must not contain metal components that can interfere with the measurements. The reason for this is that the researchers work with very precise determinations of small amounts of metal isotopes.
The new research facilities cover a total area of approximately 125 square metres. Samples are prepared in the cleanroom facilities and then taken in airtight containers to an instrument room, where mass spectrometers have been installed to carry out the actual measurements of the different materials.
The measuring instruments in the laboratory are extremely sensitive and can measure right down to a level of parts per trillion, using an inductively coupled mass spectrometer (ICP-MS). Here the sample is mixed with argon gas and transported to the plasma source, where it is exposed to 6,000 to 10,000 K (Kelvin degrees), which corresponds to the temperature on the surface of the Sun. Following treatment, the material’s components can be discharged and measured according to different parameters.
The technology will be used in a number of different fields, such as the environment, soil measurements, materials science, biology, medicine, archaeology, criminology and much more.
The Aarhus Geochemistry and Isotope Research Platform (AGiR) at Aarhus University was set up in collaboration between the Danish National Research Foundation, the Carlsberg Foundation and the VILLUM FOUNDATION.
For more information about the AGiR research team, please contact
Professor Charles Lesher
Department of Geoscience
Professor Christian Tegner
Department of Geoscience
Fact box: What actually is a cleanroom?
A cleanroom is a defined area where the indoor climate is controlled for specific purposes. Entry to the laboratory is via an airlock. Parameters such as temperature, humidity and air pressure are maintained at a particular level. The laboratory at the Department of Geoscience is class 10 in the enclosures where samples are handled and class 100 in the laboratory itself. For a laboratory to qualify as a class 10 cleanroom, there must be fewer than 352 particles measuring more than 0.5 micrometres per cubic metre of air. By way of comparison, there are more than 35 million particles on average in the air that surrounds us on a daily basis at work, in the woods or at home.
Setting up and running such a cleanroom therefore places great demands on drainage, ventilation, venting, personal safety, etc. Everything must match the conditions for which the laboratory will be used. In a class 100 cleanroom, the air change rate (ACR) is 50 times per hour. Air particle filters called HEPA (high-efficiency particulate arrestance) filters are used to maintain the clean air.
Personnel working in the facility normally wear overalls and overshoes, as well as hairnets and gloves.