More than 1.4 billion microscopic particles float around in the average office.
Viruses, bacteria, dust and skin particles, all invisible to the naked eye.
But in RMIT's new MicroNano Research Facility (MNRF), these tiny particles will be filtered from state-of-the-art cleanrooms, allowing researchers to properly produce devices on the nano-scale.
Director of the facility, Professor James Friend, says the cleanrooms are crucial for nano-scale physics, chemistry, and engineering in support of biomedical research.
"The devices that we make are often invisible to the eye and are the same size or smaller than the dust, so when we actually work with the devices sometimes you can't tell the difference between them and the dust," he says.
The MNRF, due to open in mid-August, will occupy 1,200 square metres, including 850 square metres of cleanroom and biological containment laboratories.
The new facility will replace RMIT's 31-year-old Microelectric and Material Technology Centre, which was Australia's first academic cleanroom environment.
Friend says the MNRF will open the door for an exciting new chapter of nano-research. "The real motivation behind the facility is it's 100 per cent about the research," he says.
"RMIT has made it a mission to improve its research performance and outcomes across the board and this facility and people affiliated with it are dedicated to that mission."
Innovative energy harvesting techniques that change the way batteries are recharged will also be pioneered at the facility, says Friend.
"We're used to charging our batteries by plugging our devices into a wall, but we walk around all the time," Friend says.
"It's quite possible we won't need to actually do any charging because as we're walking around that motion actually causes the charging through novel materials."
Water remediation, the process of removing contaminants from water, will also be under the microscope at the MNRF, where nano-researchers will invent ways to use water to remove toxins from fabric dyes.
"We're looking at technologies to facilitate the breaking down of those dyes with catalysts that are nanostructures," Friend says.
At $25 million, construction of the MNRF is the largest investment RMIT has made in support of research in its history. This is complemented by a $7 million investment in cutting-edge equipment for the facility.
The MNRF will be home to the world's first rapid 3D nanoscale printer, which uses a two-photon interaction to harden liquid polymer according to a 3D pattern defined by the user.
The system is capable of producing thousands of structures, each a fraction of the width of a human hair, in seconds.
Researchers at the MNRF will also have access to about 50 other major tools, including focused ion beam lithography with helium, neon, and gallium ion beams to enable imaging and machining objects to 0.5 nm resolution, roughly 5 to 10 atoms.
"Having access to this equipment gives us a tremendous opportunity," Friend says.
"We can do incredible new things because we have all this gear to work with and we feel very fortunate."
Story: Kate Jones
Photo: Carla Gottgens, SKM
This story was first published in RMIT's Making Connections magazine.