Revelations in microbial control

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Baier, a biomaterials professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, recently set out with a team of researchers to learn how certain hard-to-kill bacteria can survive the myriad measures semiconductor manufacturers take to get rid of them—filtration, UV, you name it.

What Baier and his band actually found was that the toughest bacteria were coming into the cleanroom through the ultra-pure water supply—a complete surprise. The bacteria made it that far by attaching to flecks of silicon and other semicondutors, allowing other “flecks” to gather on top and crystallize.
As Baier told CleanRooms’ Hank Hogan in this month’s cover story exploring the contamination control implications of these findings, “The microorganisms protect themselves from assault by encasement inside a rock, basically,” says Baier. Which, of course, makes them practically unstoppable.

So, if you can’t beat them, develop them.

Like all unyielding academics, Baier has turned over another leaf based on this first finding. Why not find a way to harness this activity and embrace the enemy?

According to Baier, a single bacterium is a single-electron photonic device that’s capable of converting light into electricity. In turn, Baier and his team have started exploring the possibility of manufacturing these “rocks,” this vial contamination which are, basically, living microbes encased in semiconductor crystals.

By combining semiconductors with living cells—which both use single electron transfers—Baier forecasts the evolution of the biotransistor, a photosensitive microbe embedded in a chip, or a “biochip.”

The uses could be limitless—just think of the medical devices that could utilize this technology. I can’t help but think about the other bacteria we’ve yet to find that has already adapted to the harsh environments we’ve created to get rid of them. What are we currently missing?

As Hogan asked in our initial discussions concerning this story, “Does this mean that other organisms can evolve to invade cleanrooms?”

If microbes are evolving to this level in ISO Class 3-5 (Class 1-100) clean spaces, what are they capable of achieving in less stringent environments? I’ll leave that one open-ended. Let me know what you find out.

Chances are you’re reading this column while taking a break on the show floor at CleanRooms West 2000 in Portland, OR. By now your feet are throbbing, yet you still have a couple hours to go before your dinner reservation.

At this point, we’ve announced the availability of “The US Market for Cleanroom Products,” the first comprehensive cleanroom market study—the industry’s first snapshot of itself. We’ve teased another section of the report, Minienvironments, on page 4.

Conducted by the global research firm Frost & Sullivan, the market study examines revenue forecasts through 2006, identifies market drivers and trends and offers strategic recommendations for suppliers of cleanroom products.

The report delves into cleanroom apparel, furniture, monitors, gas systems, flooring and minienvironments among others. But the best news is that this is just a start. CleanRooms and Frost & Sullivan plan to add categories, dive into new markets and take at a look at the European and Asian markets down the road.

If you’re at the show, drop by the CleanRooms booth to meet the editorial staff. If you’re not, drop me a line at [email protected] if you need some more information on the report.

Michael Levans
Chief Editor


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