The University of Sydney Nano Institute

Quantum nanoscience

Introduction

The Quantum Nanoscience Group undertakes experimental and theoretical research in quantum science with the aim of learning how to engineer and manipulate complex quantum systems. This incorporates work aimed at addressing challenges at both the hardware and software levels.

The Quantum Nanoscience group are engaged in research involving the testing of electronic devices and electrical measurements at cryogenic temperatures and in magnetic fields. The Quantum Nanoscience Group laboratory space is not a wet chemical laboratory.   

Operations

Working within the Quantum Nanoscience Group is a team of approximately 20 people headed by Professor David Reilly. Working beneath and assisting David Reilly is a Post Doc level B Research Associate. This person is responsible for preparing and updating risk assessments and safety compliance within the Quantum Nanoscience Laboratory. In addition, there are approximately 10 PhD students, 4 undergraduate students and several Level 9 Engineers for technical assistance and research support.

The Quantum Nanoscience laboratory area is located on Level 2 as marked in figures below.

Location of Quantum Nanoscience Laboratory on Level 2 in SNH

Location of Quantum Nanoscience Laboratory on Level 2 in SNH

Quantum Nanoscience Laboratory

Quantum Nanoscience Laboratory

The Quantum Nanoscience laboratory area uses a range of equipment and other items which pose several significant hazards to personnel working in the laboratory. The equipment involved in the experiments involves the use of cryogens, magnetic fields, tools, glassware, electrical components, high voltage equipment, high pressure cylinders storing DGs, sound level frequencies and very small quantities of nanoparticles (diamonds). A brief summary of the associated risks is provided below for each of the main identified hazards.

Generic laboratory hazards exist in the laboratory area including hazards associated with tools, glassware, sharps and electrics. There is also the risk of burns such as those generated from a soldering iron.

Magnetic fields pose two main risks of concern within the Quantum Nanoscience laboratory area which are outlined in the induction process. Firstly, there is a direct risk to people who have pacemakers as the magnetic fields may impact with the operation of the pacemaker. This is managed through the use of signage and restricted access. Secondly, there is the risk of ferrous metals, or items containing ferrous metals (e.g. tools such as screwdrivers, chairs etc.), being attracted to the strong magnetic fields and striking people. This is managed by exclusion zones around the magnetic equipment (enforced by the use of a barrier) where all equipment has been verified to be non-ferrous and is suitable for use within the zone. In addition, access into the zoned area is restricted.

Cryogens (liquid helium and liquid nitrogen) are used within the laboratory area which can be hazardous. In addition, dewars holding the cryogens are transported in to and out of the laboratory which increases the potential for collisions or accidents resulting in the contents of the dewar being spilled resulting in potential oxygen deficient environments.

Oxygen sensors are located within the laboratory area which constantly measure the oxygen levels in the air and will activate an alarm should oxygen deficiency be detected. Dewars are wheeled between the laboratory areas and fill station (on the same floor) via the grey space. A formalised dewar transportation procedure is in the process of being development specifically for the Quantum Nanoscience laboratory area; however, general guidelines for cylinder transportation are outlined in Section 6.12.4 of SNH Safety & Operations Manual (PDF 4,899KB).

The biggest risk of cryogens is the expansion of the cryogenic liquid as it boils resulting in displacement of air without sufficient ventilation. Care must be taken when transferring the liquid between vessels and it must also be performed by a trained, experienced person (i.e. someone who understands how cryogens behave). Where liquids are transferred, it is liquid helium or liquid nitrogen. PPE required for handling cryogenic liquids is clarified in the induction process, and includes appropriate footwear, eyewear and gloves. In addition to oxygen exclusion, contact with cryogenic liquids can result in freeze burns. This risk is managed by PPE and application of cryogenic handling procedures.

Cryostat refrigerators are used to chill helium down to temperature approaching absolute zero (-273.15 °C). The helium within the cryostats is managed according to the cryogenic liquid management procedures outlined above. In addition to cryogenic risks, the cryostat refrigerator pumps generator significant noise which may result in injury following extended exposure. The potential for noise injury is managed via sound insulation on the pumps in the form of a flexible tape produced by Acoustica. This tape results in significant noise reduction such that exposure is considered safe.

High pressure cylinders are in use in the Grey Space of the Quantum Nanoscience laboratory area. The main risk involved in the storage and handling of high pressure cylinders is the potential for a dropped cylinder resulting in valve damage releasing the high pressure contents which may result in pressure injuries if exposed or may result in the rocketing of cylinders and missile impact. Cylinders are stored and handled according to AS4332-2004 and are transported using trolleys and harnesses. Personnel involved in the storage and handling of the cylinders are trained and informed of the risks.

High voltage equipment is required for use in several of the experiments conducted within the laboratory. Equipment that is being designed, built or is in use which utilises voltages exceeding mains voltage are supervised by David Reilly or senior laboratory associates. Electrical work is only undertaken by following the Electrical Code and following completion of risk assessment. Where new electrical equipment is constructed, risks assessment are completed which are verified by senior staff and signed off by a qualified electrician.

Finally, flammable liquids and corrosives are used in very small quantities in the laboratory area such as Isopropanol for cleaning. A small bottle (decanted from a bigger bottle) is stored within the laboratory area for this purpose. The use of a small bottle reduces the consequence of a spill. Spill management procedures are outlined in Section 15 of SNH Safety & Operations Manual (PDF 4,899KB). Fluxes used in stainless steel soldering are corrosive which may result in chemical burns. The risks associated with this material is managed via ensuring personnel using the material are familiar with the SDS and wear appropriate PPE.

The Quantum Nanoscience Group has a general principal regarding identification of broken equipment being "the person who identifies inoperable equipment, they are to fix it". If it becomes faulty during somebody’s use, then they are also responsible for arranging parts and/or carrying out the repairs and maintenance. To minimise the potential for unexpected breakdown, some pieces of equipment are regularly serviced. Similarly, the care of specific equipment within the laboratory is designated to personnel who are responsible for the care, inspection, services, maintenance and upkeep of that equipment. If in the course of ensuring the continued operation of equipment there are safety implications, or the costs associated with the upkeep are substantial, David Reilly will be notified and involved in the process.

The philosophy of the group is to ensure that all equipment is repaired and serviced without delay to minimise the potential hazards associated with malfunctioning equipment. Currently there is no formalised isolation procedure for faulty equipment; however, it is planned to develop a procedure involving the well-established Lock Out Tag Out (LOTO) methodology.

No hazardous waste products are likely to be generated as a result of the operations with the exception of metal or glass shards and sharps which are detailed in Section 16.11 of SNH Safety & Operations Manual (PDF 4,899KB).

A laboratory clean-up is undertaken once every week or two during which the laboratory area is given a thorough tidy and clean to ensure accumulation of equipment does not occur minimising the potential for unidentified hazards. A specific cleaning procedure following the completion of experiments is in development for implementation in the SNH; this will include a system on how and where equipment and related items and other parts are stored.  

Safety and Training 

The Post Doc Researcher has the official task of managing safety and risks in the laboratory area; they are also first aid trained in case of a medical incident or emergency. It is their responsibility to ensure that all the safety procedures are up to date and implemented in the correct way to ensure a safe working environment. Safety and training measurements undertaken in the laboratory include; an induction, a weekly risk assessment, reporting standards, and a weekly meeting. 

A safety induction is undertaken by David Reilly for all students, staff and researchers that will be working in the laboratory area. It is a specific induction for the laboratory area where personnel are informed of the risks and introduced to the equipment within the laboratory area. Everyone working in the laboratory area undertake the same level of induction. The induction process involves a discussion and a verbal quiz where David Reilly assesses their understanding of risks. Upon completion, the induction paperwork is signed off and stored in two locations. The hard copy is stored in the safety folder at the entrance to the laboratory area, and a soft copy (scanned version of the hard copy) is electronically in the file directory.

A weekly risk assessment is performed to identify any changes within the laboratory area to ensure risks resulting from these changes are identified and managed accordingly. The list of chemicals and SDSs are also checked in the safety folder and it is ensured that the SDS folder is made available to all personnel in the laboratory.

The first item on the agenda for the weekly meeting is in regards to safety. Any new hazards are reported, new concerns are raised and anything that needs to be assessed is discussed. Improvements that could be made to safety are also captured. It is important that a situation does not arise in which the laboratory work cannot be carried out efficiently due to hazards or safety issues. Therefore, a safe environment is required.

If any incidents occur within the laboratory area, the University Incident Procedure is implemented; furthermore, it is discussed in the weekly meeting. 

Security 

Once the above induction process has been carried out, a swipe card is issued granting access to the laboratory area.

The laboratory area is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; however, access to personnel is decided on a case by case basis and there are certain guidelines or rules in place for when personnel can work alone outside of normal working hours, particularly at night. Generally, access outside of normal working hours is granted provided that the risks are assessed prior to working alone, and high risk activities (e.g. those using high power frequencies or involving other electrical hazards) are not carried out. Predominantly computer work is conducted out of hours (i.e. analysis of results and report writing)

Should be personnel required to undertake an activity that has a higher level of risk during out of hours’ work, David Reilly or the Post Doc Research are available to discuss the task. In addition, security can be notified that a higher risk task is to occur and can be asked to be present to ensure personnel safety. Notwithstanding this, some activities are forbidden when working outside of normal working hours. The use of sharps (e.g. cutting or filing) or using drill presses or similar machinery are considered too high risk when working alone. Procedures are in place for using this equipment. Working alone outside of hours is communicated as part of the induction process. Having a good team ethos ensures people are sensible and a good working team atmosphere and culture is created where people look out for each other. 

Personal Protective Clothing and Equipment (PPE)

PPE must be worn when in the laboratory area and when undertaking certain activities within the laboratory area. Appropriate footwear must be worn at all times within the laboratory area. Certain activities require the need for additional PPE to be worn such as; eyewear, aprons, gloves and ear muffs. The requirement of PPE for certain activities (e.g. filling cryogens) is assessed on a case by case basis, depending on the experience of the individual undertaking the task. Other activities require mandatory PPE, for example when using the dremel (which is used for cutting) safety glasses are mandatory. Additional safety measurements are put in place for this high risk activity. The dremel has a lock on it, and when operators collect the key, the safety glasses are on top of the key with signage in place reminding the operator to wear the safety glasses when using the dremel.

PPE requirements are covered in the induction process and are also signposted within the laboratory area. 

Further Information

WHS documentation specific to Quantum Nanoscience laboratories will shortly be available on the Sydney Nano SharePoint, which is currently under construction.

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