Willis Whitfield, the former lab physicist, has passed away at the age of 92. Fifty years ago, whilst working as a scientist at Sandia Labs, Whitfield invented the modern-day cleanroom.
Whitfield had his initial drawings for the new cleanroom by the end of 1960. His solution for dealing with the turbulent airflow and particles found in cleanrooms of the day was to constantly flush out the room with highly filtered air.
His creation created a work environment that was more than a thousand times cleaner than any other cleanroom at the time. Today, cleanrooms and clean benches based on Sandia’s design are used in the manufacture of precision mechanical assemblies for systems designed at the national security laboratory.
Whitfield gave his initial paper on what was then called the “ultra-cleanroom” at the Institute of Environmental Sciences meeting in Chicago in 1962.
Sandia President and Labs Director Paul Hommert remembered Whitfield as a Sandia pioneer.
“Willis Whitfield represented the very best of Sandia. An exemplary researcher, a physicist who became an engineer’s engineer, Willis lived in that sweet spot where the best technical work is always done, at the intersection of skill, experience, training and intuition,” Hommert said. “His breakthrough concept for a new kind of cleanroom, orders of magnitude more effective than anything else available in the early 1960s, came at just the right time to usher in a new era of electronics, health care, scientific research and space exploration. His impact was immense; even immeasurable.”