Alex Lu – Ultrasonic Cleaning and Imagination

Alex Lu, a chemistry major at Sam Houston State University, came from to the U.S. from China six years ago. He explains that “when I graduated from High School, I had two interests: chemistry and physics. I enjoyed chemistry more.” Alex is an innovator, an “imaginator” (if there is such a word). He’ll talk about a new technology he’s heard about, then expound on how that technology might be adapted to various practical applications – like product cleaning.

As a student and a member of Cleaning Research Group at SHSU, Alex researched processes for ultrasonic cleaning. He was tasked with matching the cleaning chemistry to the parts so that it would remove the soil without damaging the parts. Alex tested a number of aqueous cleaning agents and found that performance relative to frequency varied among cleaning agents. There was no general trend; not all cleaning agents were more aggressive at lower frequency than at higher frequency. When trying to determine what was in each of the cleaning solutions, Alex implied that it was difficult to obtain complete information from some of the suppliers. It is a fact that the “recipes” and even the ingredient list for commercial formulations are typically closely-guarded trade secrets. Alex and I discussed that not all sales reps have a background in the sciences, let alone in critical cleaning. Sometimes it helps to reach out to the technical folks. Alex also discovered that more than one cleaning technique may have to be considered. “There are limitations on ultrasonics; it’s hard to clean narrow tubes. One student in the CRG tried VCC (please see the Nethmini’s comments); sometimes that was better, other times we saw corrosion.”

Alex explains that, “we have to make a balance between education and demonstration. For the workshop, we have to make the demonstration obvious to the students really quickly.” Therefore, in setting up exercises for the Product Quality Cleaning Workshop (PQCW), he had to be innovative. For example, one goal was to demonstrate differences in the effectiveness of a various cleaning process. Alex says that “it turned out to be hard to monitor cleaning either by change in the mass, visually looking for signs of soil removal or looking for a color change in the grease.” This is not surprising; pinning down how well particles or thin film residue are removed can involve complex, exacting lab tests that are time consuming. To solve the problem, “we used a Sharpie, to mark the part. We could monitor the change in color as an indication of soil removal.”

Alex is graduating this semester. He would like to continue his education by attending graduate school in the U.S. However, as of this writing, the options for taking portions of the Graduate Record Exams are limited. He would like to attend graduate school and consider some aspect of cleaning or organic synthesis. He’s intrigued by a presentation about “a magnetic polymer that attracts oil;” this could take him down a path to explore organic synthesis or polymeric science. “I’m still deciding between teaching and working in industry,” says Alex. His experiences in the practical aspects of critical cleaning and his efforts to develop exercises that clearly demonstrate how cleaning works will have practical applications, whatever career path he chooses.

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