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Courtesy of Timothy Lee Photographers / Columbia Engineering /

A $20 million renovation expanded the Clean Room from 3,000 to almost 5,000 square feet.

This semester, the Columbia Nano Initiative officially reopened the Clean Room, which provides a controlled and contamination-free environment for experimentation.

A $20 million renovation expanded the Clean Room, based in the Schapiro Center for Engineering and Physical Science Research, from 3,000 to almost 5,000 square feet. Open to science departments in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences as well as the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Clean Room will be used primarily by students.

“This is something that I think is inspirational to our students,” Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science Mary Boyce said. “They can see what the possibilities will be in our own research. It’s also inspirational to the young people to get them to pursue science and engineering, to see the excitement of discovery, the excitement of creating something new that’s never been seen before.”

Although planning began in 2012, construction on the Clean Room began in the summer of 2014 with funding from the provost’s office and finished in spring 2017. Since then, the Clean Room has been in partial use. The facility will go into full use once the fire department certifies it.

Executive Vice President for Research G. Michael Purdy emphasized that technology and facilities like the Clean Room are crucial to keeping up with innovations in the sciences.

“Advances in science and engineering are built upon new observations, original experiments, and fresh ideas,” Purdy said. “Unless we as a university are continuously improving the observational and experimental facilities that we have … then we’re holding back progress.”

The Clean Room, which is open to researchers outside of Columbia including the City University of New York and business venturers, can be used for studies across disciplines. Equipped with micro- and nanofabrication and characterization tools, the facility aids research in nanophotonics, advanced and unconventional electronics, and microfluidics.

The room is intended in part to foster interdisciplinary research at the nanoscale. All engineering and science departments as well as the College of Physicians and Surgeons will have access.

“This hallmark of the interdisciplinary spirit and creation at Columbia is really remarkable, and it’s having these kinds of shared facilities that enable the random interactions of people, particularly of students, where something new happens that you weren’t expecting,” Boyce said. “That sort of creative and discovery process is part and parcel of the new impact this will have, and also what this will do in so many different sectors to impact society.”

cara.maines@columbiaspectator.com | @columbiaspec

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