AVS Historical Persons | Dorothy Hoffman - 1993

Dorothy Hoffman - 1993

Oral History Interview with Dorothy Hoffman

Interviewed by John Vossen & Jim Lafferty, November 17, 1993
VOSSEN: I'm John Vossen. We're at the 40th Symposium of the AVS in Orlando, Florida. I'm here today to interview Dorothy Hoffman, a former President of the AVS and longtime member - member since 1954, one year after the Society was founded. Dorothy, how are you?

hoffman_d.JPGHOFFMAN: I'm fine. I'm feeling a little old at the moment after all these 40-year celebrations!

VOSSEN: What are some of your more memorable experiences in the early days of the Society?

HOFFMAN: I can remember so well the very early days when all of the Board of Directors and officers had a formal dinner, an evening dinner in place of the reception that we have now, all of the Officers and Directors were lined up there in their dinner suits. Very formal. Little black bow ties. The whole bit. [Chuckles] I think that lasted until Bill Lange got on the Board. Bill Lange refused to wear one of the monkey suits, and so the Society started to become a little less formal. We gradually evolved into what we have now, which is a very, very nice group of people.

VOSSEN: I know that, in 1974, you became the first woman president of any technical society in the country. And during your tenure, you had a little bit of fun with both the Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology and the Internal Revenue Service. Tell us a little bit about that.

HOFFMAN: Well, that was the year that Paul Redhead, who was the second editor of the journal, and a very great one, suddenly decided he had to retire from the editorship. Very suddenly, we were thrown into the mode of trying to find a new editor for the journal, and of course, that's a very, very important decision. There was a lot of mad scrambling until we finally found someone who was not only capable but very, very willing to do the job. It was Peter Mark, who, in his short tenure, also proved to be an excellent editor. 

The IRS situation was even more interesting. Most of that occurred the following year, when I was the Past-President. The IRS had decided to clamp down on all of the technical societies and nonprofit societies and tried to take away their nonprofit status, essentially. The President of the Society and the Board asked me to accompany the tax attorney that we had down to the IRS. Fortunately I did, because tax attorneys do not know anything about the AVS; they may know tax laws. It proved to be a very interesting experience. The gentleman we talked to at the IRS was very, very nice, very cooperative, and extremely interested in knowing what it is that we did. We explained all of the educational activities and the fact that the journal is a part of that. Turned out that he agreed with us, that we were indeed an educational institution. We have not had to pay taxes other than on the advertising in the journal ever since, which was a major accomplishment. Unless somebody from the AVS had been along, I don't think that would have been the outcome. So it was rather fortunate.

VOSSEN: Any other major events in your tenure with the Society that you want to tell us about?

HOFFMAN: What else have we had? There have been so many things, so many ways in which the Society has changed over the years. Of course, I think one of the best things that I did was to bring some people into the Society who had not been members, including yourself! I can recall the time when I walked down the hall - both of us had worked at RCA Laboratories, which is now David Sarnoff Research Center - I walked down the hall from our lab, I saw John coming up the other way, and I stopped him to talk. I didn't notice that he was clutching something to himself. It turned out that he was clutching my Honorary Membership certificate, which was supposed to be a complete surprise, of course, and trying very hard to make sure that I didn't see what it was. [Laughs] You may remember that one.

VOSSEN: I remember it!

HOFFMAN: But that really was a complete surprise, and a very great honor. I have enjoyed the time with the AVS enormously. I don't think there's another society like it. It's a group that has never had difficulty in getting very, very good people to do almost anything that was required by the Society on a volunteer basis. And from my experience with other groups, that is most unusual. Usually it's like pulling teeth.

VOSSEN: I think we're about out of gas, Jim. [Chuckles]

HOFFMAN: Yeah. You got any other suggestions, Jim?

LAFFERTY: While you were President, what did you do that you're most proud of?

HOFFMAN: I don't think I can pin it down to just that one year. I think just working with the Society and the fact that - Well, one thing I should point out is that, in the AVS, I have never ever felt the least bit of discrimination for being a woman. There has been absolutely none of that. As a matter of fact, I can remember Jack Singleton telling me that he thought I got the highest number of votes of anybody in any of the elections he had counted, so I think it's a reverse discrimination, if there is any. But I'm very proud of the fact that there has been none, and I've tried to encourage women in the Society. Of course, there are many, many more now.

LAFFERTY: You have also been very active in the AVS local group down there.

HOFFMAN: Yes. I was one of the founders of the Delaware Valley Chapter, which I think was 1964, if I'm not mistaken. It was one of the first chapters to be formed1. Dick Denton and Lew Hull and I formed the chapter; we were the three initial officers. That has done fairly well. You know, it's been through its ups and downs, like most chapters.

LAFFERTY: Was that the first chapter of the AVS?

HOFFMAN: No. No, I think there was one in California. There was another one. But it was one of the first. All of them formed, I think, within the first year.

LAFFERTY: Denton and Hull are both…

HOFFMAN: Yeah, they're old timers. I know they are. I've known them for a long, long time. I think I've known Dick Denton since at least 1952, '53.

LAFFERTY: What do you attribute the success of the AVS to? It certainly started out in a very modest way. When solid-state devices came along, a lot of people thought vacuum was starting to disappear, but I think it's used more today than ever in processing semiconductor devices.

HOFFMAN: I think it's because they allowed the Society to develop and to grow into areas that were not precisely what the founders had intended. The founders were all primarily in the vacuum technology end of it - I think mostly people who built vacuum equipment of some kind of another. GE and RCA both had equipment-building divisions, if you will. So I think the fact that they were open to these other things is what allowed them to grow. In 1957, I gave my first paper at the AVS, and it was probably one of the first three or four papers on thin films that the Society ever had. They not only allowed it, they welcomed it. And I think this has been carried through over the years. They have allowed and welcomed the areas of surface science, electronic materials - all of these new divisions that we have now here. This is what has permitted the Society to grow.

LAFFERTY: I fully agree, and I think that's rather unique among a lot of these professional societies.

HOFFMAN: They haven't operated with a set of blinders.

LAFFERTY: If we had just been strictly vacuum, I don't think we'd be existing.

HOFFMAN: No, we would be dead.

LAFFERTY: There really hasn't been that much progress made in new vacuum technology.

HOFFMAN: No. There have been a few changes, permutations.

LAFFERTY: Once we learned how to measure the best pressures we could produce, or best vacuum rather, and got down to 10-10 Torr or so, we were really supplying all the needs that everyone can use, including the scientists as well. Of course, now there's become interest recently in going down to 10-14 [Torr]. I don't know what that's going to be used for, but…

HOFFMAN: It's out of the realm of my experience! [Laughs]

LAFFERTY: We could use some interest in it.

HOFFMAN: I should think that would be the very, very elite in the surface science. I can't really see much in the way of practical applications in 10-14 [Torr] because it's just too difficult to retain.

LAFFERTY: Well, the only application I can think of is measuring the pressures in outer space.

HOFFMAN: Well, even there, I don't think the pressures are that low, from what I've read. You'd have to go way out!

LAFFERTY: I guess as you get out into outer space. I have heard estimates made that it can be as low as 10-17 [Torr], which is about three particles per cubic centimeter. It's hydrogen, I guess, is what it is.

HOFFMAN: But then I think the IC2 people would still complain that there's too many particles at that rate! [Chuckles] But basically, the AVS has developed the way it has, I think, because of the people. And it has been extremely fortunate in the people that have joined it. I can remember when Charlie Duke joined, as an illustration. Probably shouldn't put this on here. [Chuckles] But Charlie was very much surface science and gung-ho surface science, nothing else but surface science! He was elected to the Board from the Surface Science Division, and it was just outstanding. The moment he got on the Board, he was now an AVS Board member, not a Surface Science member. And a very, very good one, mind you. He was a superb President. He was marvelous. I used to love to listen to him at the Board because he could take these long-winded discussions that were going on and just pull out the nub of what was being said, and that was it. It was great. He's a marvelous guy. But I think I've seen that change in a number of people who had gone in thinking that they were representing just the one narrow group and ended up representing the entire Society. Maybe that's why the Society has been so good.

LAFFERTY: Yes, and I think the Board has always been very vocal. They don't hesitate to discuss things and violently disagree with one another, but when it's over, they're friends. You can't do that in the IUVSTA3.

HOFFMAN: Oh, no. I attended one session of IUVSTA many years ago where they substitute delegates, and I was just astounded. I sat through that meeting. You know, just sat there and shook my head because nobody wanted to listen to anybody else. Nobody wanted to do what the other person was interested in. There was no compromise. It was just terrible. That, too, should probably not be on here. [Laughter] But I can remember the French, especially. The speakers here were not to speak English; they were only to speak French. [Laughs] Do you remember that?


HOFFMAN: Of course, I couldn't understand a word they were saying! I don't think you find that in the AVS. We have an argumentative bunch - very argumentative, at times - but they do listen to each other.


HOFFMAN: Thank you, sir.

1. The Pacific Northwest Section was formed in 1961, the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic Sections in 1963 and the Delaware Valley and Northern California Sections in 1964. Sections later became Chapters. For a full list, see the E-book, "50 Years of AVS" on the web site.
2. Those involved in fabricating silicon integrated circuits.
3. International Union of Vacuum Science, Technique and Applications.

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