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Spotless: Researchers get an almost dust-free facility for creating smart sensors

Clean rooms are designed for researchers making chips so small that any dust would be destructive.

Last April, a cadre of local political, business and education leaders gathered for the grand opening of the Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center, a 109,000-sq.-ft. facility in Kissimmee that’s meant to function as a shared research-and-development space for tech companies and education institutions designing new generations of smart sensors. The center is run by a consortium, called BRIDG, that’s led by Osceola County, the University of Central Florida and the Florida High Tech Corridor.

At the heart of the $70-million building are two “clean rooms,” spaces that have been sucked nearly free of all airborne particles. The rooms are meant as a space for researchers who will be fabricating chips that are so small — one-thousandth the width of a human hair, in some cases — that any contamination at all could be destructive.

“A speck of dust can completely impact the integrity of the research and development that’s going on in that room,” says Gloria LeQuang, marketing director for BRIDG.

Just how clean are the rooms? The largest, at nearly 27,000 square feet, is certified at 1,000 particles per cubic foot of air — and operated at an even stingier 100 particles per cubic foot. (A cubic foot of ordinary air has about 35 million particles.) The second clean room, which is about 9,300 square feet, is certified at 10,000 particles per cubic foot of air, putting it on par with a typical hospital operating room.

Another advantage, LeQuang says, is that the facility’s clean rooms have been built in an open ballroom format, meaning there aren’t walls that could restrict the movement of equipment. And they are powered from underneath by a basement-level network of pipes feeding in gases and deionized water, further reducing potential obstructions to companies as they decide how to lay out the room.

BRIDG is now in the process of installing research- and-development equipment; more than 30 tools are on order, which range from a few thousand dollars to several million dollars each. The goal, LeQuang says, is to have everything installed and calibrated and the clean rooms ready to use by the summer.

Among the first companies expected to use the clean rooms are Harris, the Melbourne-based communications and defense giant, and Aurora Semiconductors of St. Petersburg, both of which have already signed on as partners with BRIDG.

And “there are a lot of conversations that are still in the confidential stage,” LeQuang says.

Business Briefs

APOPKA — Florida Hospital opened a $203-million, 120-bed hospital, replacing a 50-year-old, 50-bed hospital.

â-º State wildlife officials completed the release of 1 million largemouth bass fingerlings into Lake Apopka as part of a years-long effort to revive the polluted lake.

DEBARY — Developer Charles Wayne Properties landed a nearly $4-million loan from First Green Bank to help finance development of a 68-acre, mixed-use project known as the DeBary Town Center, which boosters say is the largest undeveloped parcel of land within walking distance of any station along central Florida’s SunRail commuter rail system.

LAKE COUNTY — After years of controversy and litigation, Cemex won approval to open a 500-plus-acre sand mine in the southern end of the county.

ORANGE COUNTY — Orlando Utilities Commission opened a $15-million solar power plant.

ORLANDO — City leaders and non-profit Dr. Phillips Inc. unveiled plans for a more than 200-acre mixed-use development near downtown that would include residential and commercial space plus a new regional park. Swiss airline Edelweiss will began year-round flights between Orlando and Zurich. Marriott reopened a long-closed, nearly 300-room hotel downtown after a $20 million-plus renovation. The Boys and Girls Club of Central Florida opened a $4.25-million, 30,000-sq.-ft. facility in the city’s Parramore neighborhood.

OSCEOLA COUNTY — The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission opened a public gun range, its first, in metro Orlando.

PORT ORANGE — In a partnership with the Florida Inland Navigational District and others, the city opened a 10-acre Riverwalk Park along the Halifax River.

Players

  • The Orlando Utilities Commission chose Clint Bullock, vice president of electric and water delivery, as its new general manager and CEO. Bullock succeeds Ken Ksionek, who is retiring.

Innovation: Zika Diagnosing

Led by a University Central Florida professor, an Orlando- based biotech startup called Nano Discovery has developed a test that it says can diagnose a Zika infection within a half-hour.

The test, dubbed D2Dx, uses a mixture of gold nanoparticles to detect the anti-Zika antibodies that are produced in patients who have contracted the Zika virus.

Boosters say the test offers several advantages over current Zika diagnostic tools. Among them: It is easy to administer, requiring only a finger prick and few drops of blood. The technology is also small and portable; it’s about the size of a small printer. And it works much faster than tests on the market, which can take hours or days.

“This technique has the potential for many other diseases, too,” says professor Qun Treen Huo, president and co-founder of Nano Discovery.

Huo says she expects the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will review D2Dx for emergency use. Assuming it is approved, Nano Discovery hopes to begin manufacturing the test and selling it to hospitals.

 

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