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For the week of February 14 through 20, 2001

`Clean room’ science

Advanced tech class experiments in new environment

Express Staff Writer

As if pupils at the Wood River Middle School didn’t already have a thousand things to experience in the school’s Tech Room, they now have a "clean room," thanks to a donation by Power Engineers.

Advanced Technology teacher Brad Thode demonstrates how optic fiber is made. He holds in his hands a fiber he has just drawn out of the liquid glass in the crucible in front of him. Photo by Willy Cook

The Mountain Express paid a visit to this clean room just as students in Brad Thode’s eighth grade Advanced Technology class were making fiber optic cable.

The glass used in fiber optics is free of impurities that would interfere with pulses of light that travel through it.

One of the "lead engineers" in Brad Thode’s 8th grade class, Dylan Fuller, describes how he hopes to draw a long string of optic fiber onto a spool. The furnace that melts the glass is right below. Photo by Willy Cook

Thode said the glass is so pure that if you looked through a "window [of it] seven miles thick, it would just look like air."

A stick of that glass, donated by Lucent, looks like a piece of a big icicle. Thode estimated its value at several hundred dollars.

For its purity to be maintained, the glass has to be worked in a clean room where air and surfaces are free of the smallest particles and fibers.

While the school’s clean room would not meet industry standards, it serves the purpose of instruction.

Students enter through an air lock into a room where they can suit up in clean suits donated by Micron. They cover everything but their eyes, and those are covered by safety goggles.

They next step into an "air shower" to cleanse them of particles and fibers. While showering, pupils stand on sticky paper that removes particles from the bottom of their booties.

Once that is done, pupils can enter the clean room.

Thode introduced his three lead engineers for the project—Dylan Fuller, Craig Werley and Ted Dankanyin, all 14 years old.

Under Thode’s supervision and help, the three worked near a furnace that held the melted glass in a crucible. It is so hot inside the furnace, 2,000 degrees, that the glass turns into a tangerine-colored liquid.

Thode helped a pupil draw a thread of glass fiber out of the crucible using a glass rod. As the rod was drawn up, the thread followed as high as Thode could reach his hand.

Then he broke it off from the liquid and gave it to one of the pupils so the class could get a hands-on feel for fiber optic cable.

To demonstrate the use of lasers to send light along a path of glass, Thode and the lead engineers went into the laser room, fitted the fiber to the laser and shot a stream of red light down it.

Laser is an acronym for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation, but Thode has a more understandable definition.

Inside a tube, atoms of helium and neon are excited by a current of electricity. As the atoms become excited, they give off photons, the smallest unit of light.

These photons shoot out of the end of the laser in a stream of red light. In this stream, thousands of phone calls and bits of data can be sent.

The goal of the class is to send voice data over the longest possible length of optic fiber. Pupils hope to reach from one end of the school to the other.

In order to create fibers longer than Thode’s arm length, Fuller, Werley and Dankanyin have developed a spooling system above the furnace in the clean room.

They hope to start a thread of optic fiber, attach it to the spool and slowly wind up the length they want.

If they can solve the length problem, no doubt Thode will have another problem to lead them through.

But the pupils don’t seem to mind. Words like exciting and fun frequently come out of their mouths when asked how they like the class.

One pupil said, "This is better than sitting at a desk and reading in class.

"This," he said, "is hands on."

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