Life in the cleanroom

Name: Dr. Henry Lancashire
Age: 25
Job title: Research Fellow
Qualifications: D.Eng, MRes
Employer/university/college: University College London Where you live: London

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I am a biomedical engineer: I apply engineering solutions to medical problems to improve life for patients. Biomedical engineers make all sorts of devices, from replacement hips and knees to large medical scanners. My work involves designing and testing miniature devices intended to repair or replace the human body’s nervous system.

These tiny devices have to be made in a very clean environment as dust and other small particles can stop processes from working as they should. To keep everything free from dust I work in what’s called a “cleanroom”.

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The main sources of dirt in the cleanroom are the people working there, so while in the lab I have to wear special clothes covering me from head to foot. All the air in the room is filtered and everything I take into the lab has to be thoroughly cleaned. Clean air is constantly blown from the ceiling down to the floor to flush away any dust and dirt. This keeps the number of dust particles in the cleanroom about one thousand times lower than in a normal room.

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When I have made a new device this has to be tested. My job also involves doing the very first stage of testing to find out whether a device is safe for medical use. To do this I look at how cells from the body react to the new material. The way cells react to a material can help identify potentially useful materials as well as possible harmful effects. This also has to be done in a very clean environment. We work in cabinets which act as mini cleanrooms, filtering the air and keeping dust and airborne bacteria and fungi away from the fragile cells.

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I enjoy the challenges of my job, there is always a chance to learn new skills and solve new problems. I work alongside a team with lots of different experience, from surgeons to electrical engineers. Also, working in a university I have the chance to work with students while they get an introduction to laboratory techniques. It is really fun to help students get their first experience of research life and collaborate with them on new and pioneering research.

As an engineering researcher I get chances to share my work with others, by writing academic articles and by presenting at international conferences. This gives me the chance to get feedback from engineering and medical experts, and meet people working on new and exciting things. But the real thrill in biomedical engineering is knowing that my research will hopefully lead to better lives for patients.