Whitfield opens door for cleanroom industry

Whitfield opens door for cleanroom industry

Lisa A. Karter

Editor`s Note: This is the second in a series of articles celebrating the accomplishments of the distinguished members of the CleanRooms Hall of Fame.

In April, 1962, Time magazine dubbed Willis Whitfield “Mr. Clean.” Indeed, he was deserving of the title because it was his idea that led to the Whitfield Ultra-Clean Room, the predecessor of today`s cleanroom.

“The idea was so simple, that some place, some time, somebody must have had this idea before,” Whitfield said in an interview with CleanRooms in 1995. It was his idea for a laminar flow cleanroom that earned him induction into the CleanRooms Hall of Fame in 1990.

A Texas-born physicist, Whitfield was part of a group that was responsible for helping solve problems in advanced assembly and manufacturing of electromechanical weapon components at Sandia National Laboratories (Albuquerque, NM). In 1959, U.S. Gage, a manufacturer of mechanical weapon timers, reported a cleanroom problem and Sandia had supplied the company`s cleanroom. Yes, a cleanroom existed in 1959, but it was merely an air conditioned room. That year, Whitfield first developed his concept for the laminar flow cleanroom. It wasn`t until years later that it became a reality.

Whitfield`s idea was to supply air to a cleanroom in a unidirectional flow instead of moving the air randomly about the room. In 1961, a model of the Whitfield cleanroom was built. It was an 8-by-10 foot room with air entry through the ceiling and exit air leaving through the floor. This design allows over 600 air changes per hour compared to 20 air changes per hour of previous clean, air conditioned rooms. In 1964, the idea was patented and the rest is history.

Whitfield began his career in 1952 at the U.S. Navy`s Naval Research Laboratory`s solid rocket fuels and motors R&D project. In 1954, he was hired as a nuclear physicist at Sandia. Three years later he moved into a special projects group. From 1967 to 1976, Whitfield was division supervisor of Sandia`s Applied Sciences Division conducting research for NASA. From 1977 to 1984, he was division supervisor for the Isotopic Sources and Hot Cell Application Division. Whitfield also helped develop Federal Standard 209 in 1963.

Whitfield`s contributions to the contamination control community include working on the American Association for Contamination Control in the 1960s. He was appointed to the National Academy of Science`s Committee on Airborne Bacterial Control in Hospital Operating Rooms in 1974. He received three patents for his cleanroom work, and the Individual Scientific Technical Achievement Award by the American Association for Contamination Control as well as the Holly Medal for his laminar flow cleanroom principle from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers among several other honors and awards.

In 1984, Willis Whitfield retired.


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