Facility Setup: A room with a view

Faebian Bastiman

One of the questions I get asked frequently is: does an MBE system need to be in a cleanroom? My answer is: no, but it needs to be in a clean room. What do I mean? Well the room must be designed in a way that is easy to clean, and must be kept clean. The ideas are summed up very nicely in this blog post from Hutchins and Hutchins.

So what is the difference between a clean room and a cleanroom? What does an ideal MBE lab look like? Well consider the classic laboratory (and I am not talking about Dr Frankenstein’s castle’s highest tower complete with lightning rod) I am talking about the classic white walls, floors and ceilings, plethora of air vents and cold fluorescent light. Ghastly!

The white surfaces and ventilation can be maintained, but one of the first things you should consider is to flood the room with natural light. This of course means windows. Not only is sunlight a free and available mood enhancer, it also increases productivity and assists is healthy sleep patterns. Everyone, even scientist chained to their MBE systems, deserve natural light. Furthermore strong sunlight is an excellent means of detecting airborne or surface dust, and prompting you to do some cleaning.

The next thing to consider is that the dirtiest thing in the room is the human being, so one should limit the room one wishes to keep clean to human exposure. The MBE lab is also generally unpleasantly noisy due to the various pumps maintaining UHV. The best thing to do is therefore to divide the floor space into an office and a lab area. I direct your attention to figure 1 which represents an example MBE layout in a corner building location.

MBE lab layout

Figure 1: An example MBE lab

Note the light blue rectangles are windows and run the length of the upper and right edges. The corridor at the lower edge of the image has a door shown in purple that leads into the yellow office area. The office area is equipped with a desk that houses the MBE system’s control PC and has a further internal window where one can view the MBE system’s racks. The office should perhaps be air-conditioned to a desired temperature (e.g. 22 °C) but need not be filtered or humidity controlled.

The dark green space directly above the office is the dressing area. Here the user removes their external footwear and replaces them with non-shedding, clean footwear. One should also wear a knee length clean room coat (and if one is going to load/unload samples a hair net and face mask). The floor to the dressing room should be coated in sticky mats and there should be a sink for washing hands on entry and exit.

The light green lab is entered primarily through the dressing room, though the lower windowed wall should be removable to enable the MBE system to be installed in the first instance. The lab is where one should focus their intentions to create cleanliness. The room should be air-conditioned (e.g. 22 °C) to counteract the heat load from the racks. The air conditioning could also consist of low level filtering to reduce the typical class 1,000,000 or ISO 9 in a typical office room to 100,000 or ISO 8 to reduce cleaning frequency, but this is not essential for MBE research. Additionally one could consider employing humidity control (down to 40%) to reduce moisture intake into system during sample loading and maintenance. Most importantly the floors, walls and ceiling must be constructed from non-shedding material that is easy to clean with a solvent wipe. This is liable to be the highest expense, especially the ceiling tiles. The MBE system itself should be situated on the centre of the lab with at least a metre free on all sides. Ideally, the rack should be installed next to the system to avoid passing cables between the two. All cables should feed down from the ceiling above the rack and not across the floor, the same goes for the services (process gas, cooling water, cryo pump He, LN2) all should be fed down from the ceiling. The floor around the system can then be easily cleaned and there are no obstacles in the way that prevent dust being drawn into the low level extracting ventilation on the lab’s walls.

The lab requires a laminar flow fume cupboard for exchanging samples or performing maintenance. The remainder of the available wall space can be used for essential and convenient storage of bake out panels, substrates, ultra-pure metals, gaskets, flanges, spare cells, etc. Spare cells could optionally be stored on an outgas rig if there is sufficient space.

The lab should be free from paper, pencils, books, ink etc. All of that should be stored in the office that houses the MBE system’s operator. Ultimately, there are only three reasons to enter the lab space:

  1. Load or unload samples
  2. Clean
  3. Perform system maintenance

If the MBE system has automatic sample transfer and can execute batches of samples (see my Dream Machine blog post), one need only enter the room for a few minutes every other day. In doing so one need only clean the lab once per week. It should be vacuumed with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtered vacuum cleaner and all surfaces should be wiped down with appropriate solvents. In most cases the system maintenance should be of the scheduled kind and should be followed by the most exhaustive cleaning. Maintaining a slightly higher differential pressure in the lab compared to adjoining rooms will also reduce particle intake on ingress.

Note the LN2 phase separator to provide cryo cooling is not shown in the figure, but is intended to be installed in the ceiling space above the MBE system.

The final room to the left of the figure is the service corridor. This houses any of the services that create particles or dirt. Particularly one may wish to install the air compressor for pneumatic gas, the He compressor for the cryo pump, the water chiller for cell cooling and a pair of N2 cylinders for ultra clean process gas. One can also include an AC power distribution panel and a large roughing pump that augments any turbo pumps on the system. The service corridor need not be located on the same floor as the lab, and could be a full service area that includes the facility’s backup generator, UPS system and end line trap for the roughing pump’s exhaust.

The result is a very clean, easy to maintain lab space where cutting edge opto-electronic and electronic semiconductor research can take place that does not cost the earth.

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One thought on “Facility Setup: A room with a view

  1. I just wanted to say that this blog is great. I’m a new grad student working in an MBE lab that we are setting up this summer and there is SO much useful information on your site. Thank you!

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