The contamination control disconnect

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Has the contamination business matured so much in the past 40 years that all the mystery and magic is gone? Has this business become mundane? These days, I perceive there to be a disconnect in the contamination control community. What I cannot fathom is whether it is technical or generational.

Most of you are aware that the contamination control business grew out of the space program in the 1960s. Actually, that effort was a continuation of activity generated in World War II with development of the HEPA filter. In those days it was called an “absolute filter.” We know now that is a misnomer for a variety of reasons.

Technical disconnect
Companies used to have “contamination control engineers” who oversaw all aspects of this activity in their organizations. These were important jobs. Today those jobs are on the wane if they even exist. In their place, industry has become much more process specific. Pharmaceutical and microelectronics engineers are only concerned about contamination control of their specific processes. These different engineers are sure they cannot talk to each other because the specific vernacular of their processes is sure to be foreign to each of them.

Interestingly, when developing the new ISO Global Cleanroom Standards, we found out that even though the vernacular was seemingly different, each industry suffered from similar common denominator problems. A willingness to listen and learn the needs of others provided a strong impetus in the development of these Global Standards. Is contamination control still an end in itself or just part of an overall quality control program?

The generational disconnect
If the real growth of the contamination control business came from the space program beginning in the 1960s, it is important to note that the people who grew this business were all born prior to World War II. These people are almost all gone from active participation in the contamination control community today.

They have been replaced by the so-called “Baby Boomers” born just after World War II and more recently by the post-man-on-the-moon people born after 1969. The “Baby Boomers” have been a “me-first” generation who have, in their way, contributed significantly to the growth and strength of the contamination control community. The more recent post-man-on-the-moon generation appears to be a “me-me-first” generation whose contribution is yet to be determined.

This generation has at its disposal fantastic tools for business, science and engineering. Yet, its members seem more content to spend their spare time at health clubs, sports bars or on the Internet. You do not see many of these people at professional society and trade association functions enhancing their personal education or helping others.

The contamination control disconnect
What is needed to overcome this disconnect, whether it be technical or generational, is a new common purpose. Currently, there is no challenge large enough to unite and focus the contamination control community the way it was energized in the 1960s and 1970s.

I believe there needs to be a new commitment to put man on Mars by the year 2020. It is technically feasible to do so. First, such a commitment will require the ability to prove man can live away from Earth continuously. Let's put a colony on the moon for starters. Second, such commitment will require more extensive unmanned robotic exploration of Mars before man arrives. Third, such a commitment will require political will. This will must come from the people. Most politicians follow the people. Very few politicians are true visionary leaders.

The contamination control community significantly contributed to and significantly benefited from our commitment to put man on the moon. Let's repeat this success by going on to Mars. Such a common purpose and commitment will erase the current disconnect.

Technically, we move toward nanotechnology, extra-terrestrial bio-contamination control, molecular contamination control, long-term life support systems, enhanced isolation technology, communications enhancements, etc.

Generationally, we create a greater-than-self purpose for the post-man-on-the-moon generation who are the next leaders and stewards of mankind.

Think what spectacular scientific, engineering and human tolerance achievements await those willing to commit themselves to such an effort. There is no way of knowing the magnitude of the direct and indirect benefits mankind will receive from this type of commitment. Only time and focus will determine this.

Perhaps you think this idea of man on Mars by 2020 is crazy. I challenge you to offer a commitment of equal or greater benefit and value that will unite the technical and generational disconnect we are presently experiencing, not only in the contamination control community, but in our national community at-large. Let us seek to achieve together.

During such an effort, we will continue to benefit from the spin-offs achieved by the scientific and engineering activities this provides. Just look back to the tremendous changes initiated by our “man-on-the-moon” program. Let's not waste those initiatives by stopping only 200 miles above the surface of Earth.

This type goal of national purpose will enhance our education system, the long-term quality of life of people and promote a national and international awareness of the ability to continue to achieve beyond today's mundane.

Richard A. Matthews is founder of Filtration Technology Inc. (Greensboro, NC) and president of Micron Video International. He is chairman of the International Organization for Standardization Technical Committee ISO/TC209 “Cleanrooms and associated clean environments,” and past president of the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology. He is on the CleanRooms Editorial Advisory Board.


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