UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences


Steve Etienne

Steve Etienne is the Cleanroom Processing Manager at the London Centre for Nanotechnology (LCN) looking after the cleanroom facility and a small technical team.

Steve Etienne

1 December 2022

What is the London Centre for Nanotechnology?

The LCN is a joint venture between UCL, Imperial College and Kings College and has existed since 2005. Its main building is in Gordon Street on the Bloomsbury Campus, and there are also facilities in each of the partner sites.  

The cleanroom is an open access facility housed in the LCN building in Gordon Street available to researchers and users from all organisations, not just LCN partners.  

The cleanroom is equipped with equipment suitable for microelectronic, nanotechnology and quantum device fabrication. Our operating philosophy is to allow the users themselves operate equipment and perform the fabrication of devices themselves. The technical team provide equipment training and assist users in getting to a position where they are confidant to work autonomously.

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When did you join UCL and take up your position? 

My story at UCL started in July 2005, after 25 years working in the industry, when I took on a role looking after silicon processing for the new cleanroom at LCN. This was an enjoyable time for me because the cleanroom was being newly constructed.  

After some years I took on the additional role of managing the cleanroom team, and have also had safety and building management responsibilities, all within the London Centre for Nanotechnology. 

Where were you before UCL?

Before coming to UCL I had spent my career in an industrial research and development environment. I studied Physics and Maths at Goldsmiths College, University of London, and then joined Thorn EMI as a Technician Engineer Apprentice in 1980.  

I was based in its radar division where I was attached to a MOD project developing ship protection radar systems. The apprenticeship was focused on electronics design and construction as well as documentation, planning and assembly techniques.  

I attended day release college and worked my way over about five years to an MSc in Microelectronics. After two years I moved to the company’s central research labs, where I started my work on microfabrication projects, based around the microfabrication of semiconductor MOS based sensors. The experience I gained there was directly relevant to my role at LCN.

Tell us about your work at UCL – what does it involve and how do you spend your days?

At UCL my main role is to look after the cleanroom facilities at LCN, and I manage a technical team of four people. The main work we do is ensuring that users and potential users can safely come and use our equipment, by providing our own expertise, and specific equipment training according to their needs. 

We have a suite of equipment comprising some 80 items, and these all need to be looked after, maintained and repaired when things go wrong to ensure a high availability.

There is a lot of routine administration concerned with safety, user registration and documentation. I also engage with users, particularly when they have questions about the techniques they are using, why their process does not work, and I am the lead person to attend when equipment goes wrong.

Steve Etienne LCN
What are some of your favourite things about working at LCN?

I particularly enjoy the rare occasions when we get involved in the selection and installation of a new piece of equipment into the facility. 

Some years ago, the cleanroom was enhanced with the acquisition of six new items of equipment totaling nearly £2.5 million, and the laboratory infrastructure was rebuilt in part to accommodate this.  

This required close working with the UCL projects team, contractors, and equipment vendors to get the equipment installed. Following this, the equipment must be test-run, procedures defined, and user documentation written, safety protocols updated, and procedures validated.

Have you always been based in London? If not, when did you move here, and how did you find adapting to living in London?

I was born and educated in Jersey, before moving to London for university.  Since then, I have remained a Londoner, living just where London stops and Buckinghamshire begins, so able to enjoy town and country life…  

London to me is a place of work and for some special activities, however, my main interests are scuba-diving, walking, and cycling. I have been diving since the mid 80’s and have been an instructor with my local dive club. 

Recently my number of dives has decreased, and I am focusing more on lovely destinations abroad and the south coast of England.

Finally, tell us about your non-work life. Do you have any hobbies, or favourite places to go in London?

My favourite places in London are the museums, and the Albert Hall – for the Proms.