About I’m a Scientist

I’m a Scientist is like school science lessons meet the X Factor! School students choose which scientist gets a prize of £500 to communicate their work.

Scientists and students talk on this website. They both break down barriers, have fun and learn. But only the students get to vote.

This is the Extreme Clean Zone. It has a range of scientists studying all different topics. Who gets the prize? YOU decide!

STFCThe Extreme Clean Zone is funded by the Science & Technology Facilities Council. Their sites such as Daresbury, Diamond Light Source & ISIS provide facilities to explore what really being clean (or unclean) is. From using clean rooms, to developing new soaps & detergents.

About this Zone

Scientists working in a clean room environment. [Image: Wikimedia/UCL Faculty of Mathematical and Physical Sciences]

Scientists working in a clean room environment. [Image: Wikimedia/UCL Faculty of Mathematical and Physical Sciences]

So. What do we mean by "Extreme Clean"? Dusting in a desert, sweeping in space, vacuuming in a vacuum?

What we want to know is what is clean? Equally, what is dirty? Many scientists and researchers work in environments called "clean rooms", but why do they do this?

A clean room is a room in which any outside contaminants are controlled as well as possible. Lots of different scientists might want to work in a clean room: Forensic scientists need to work in clean environments to make sure the evidence isn't contaminated, microbiologists might not want their samples infected by other kinds of bacteria.

Equipment used in clean rooms is designed to create as little contamination as possible; specially designed tables, cupboards, and even mops are used. People working in these environments need to wear special clothes, gloves, shoes, and often face masks.


Surfactant molecules surround a blob of oil, with the hydrophobic tails sticking to the oil, and the hydrophilic heads sticking to the water. [Image: Wikimedia/Onco]

Surfactant molecules surround a blob of oil, with the hydrophobic tails sticking to the oil, and the hydrophilic heads sticking to the water. [Image: Wikimedia/Onco]

As well as clean rooms, this zone will take a look at just what "clean" really is. What makes things clean? — Soap. But how does soap work? What is soap?

Soaps contain a molecule called a surfactant. These are molecules which have two ends: one which is hydrophillic (literally water-loving); and one which is hydrophobic (water-hating), this means that it sticks to oil. On your skin, dirt is trapped in the oil produced by the skin. When you use soap to clean your hands, the hydrophobic end sticks to the oil (with the dirt trapped inside). When you rinse the soap away, the hydrophillic end sticks to the water, and everything is washed away.


In this zone, we'll be looking at scientists who work in extreme clean environments, as well as their opposite; extremely dirty. We will look at science of soaps, cleaning, and disinfecting. There are many more things which need cleaning than your hands, there are scientists working out new ways to clean the atmosphere, contaminated water, and waste materials — to name but a few — every day.

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