AVS Historical Persons | J. Roger Young - 1998

J. Roger Young - 1998

Oral History Interview with J. Roger Young

Interviewed by Rey Whetten, 1998

WHETTEN: I'm Rey Whetten. Sitting here with me is Roger Young. It's a nice fall afternoon. We're here in Jim Lafferty's house, and going to talk about some of the things that Roger has done in his career. Roger was on the Board of Directors of AVS. He was known principally that he was Treasurer for ten full years, from 1974-1984. He's an honorary member of AVS. And in my book, he gets a lot of credit for having been Program Chairman of the AVS symposium two years in succession, which I don't think anybody has ever done since his time. Roger, how did you get started working in vacuum?

young.JPGYOUNG: About 1950, the Bayard-Alpert ionization gauge was developed. This was an ionization gauge which could measure reliably pressures down to as low as 10-10 Torr. Whereas previously, it was not possible to achieve or measure pressures below 10-8 Torr with the conventional ionization gauge. This was very interesting to me. I've continued to be interested in the ultra-high vacuum area.

WHETTEN: Was this why you were at the GE Labs?

YOUNG: Yes. Well, this occurred just prior to my joining GE.

WHETTEN: What were some of your early projects?

YOUNG: A project that I enjoyed was the developing of the palladium diaphragm hydrogen pump. We had used heated palladium tubes where we would flow a mixture of nitrogen plus hydrogen on the outer jacket. Hydrogen, then, would diffuse through the palladium into the vacuum system. I found that it was possible to pump hydrogen out of the vacuum system if you exposed the outer side of the heated palladium to air.

WHETTEN: This is so that the hydrogen going through converts to water and keeps the hydrogen pressure low on the outside?

YOUNG: Yes. And about this time, GE was developing a projection television system where the video signal was written on a thin film of oil. The electron bombardment of this oil produced some decomposition. The out-gas material turned out to be mainly hydrogen with some hydrocarbons. So we were able to make the palladium diaphragm hydrogen pump, which was heated by electron bombardment. Then the electron bombardment of the palladium, we could ionize or disassociate the hydrocarbons, and then the hydrogen there was pumped and the carbon was deposited. Other active gases were gathered with a titanium alloy gather material.
It turned out that this was satisfactory for maintaining this TV tube system to adequate pressures. As far as I'm aware, it is still being used.

WHETTEN: Any other vacuum projects that you would like to discuss?

YOUNG: Another interesting project was to determine whether plastic could be used to make a sealed-off vacuum enclosure. It turns out that we looked at quite a number of plastics. All of them provide some air permeation. Air does go through—oxygen and nitrogen—go through the plastic. There were various barrier layers which were developed to reduce this. They were quite successful in reducing the airflow. It turns out that water vapor permeates plastics much more rapidly than air. It was never possible to find a barrier layer that would prevent moisture from going through, except a foil, which is the reason that when you're on a plane, you get your peanuts, they're usually in an aluminum foil plastic wrap.

WHETTEN: So it was the same kind of barrier? An aluminum barrier?

YOUNG: Aluminum barrier.

WHETTEN: In my experience, they usually give pretzels now. Peanuts are too expensive. After I came to the lab a while, GE actually had a business in making vacuum equipment. You were very instrumental in that. Would you like to discuss that?

YOUNG: Okay. In about the 1960s, GE entered the ultra-high vacuum business. Tom Vanderslice and I joined the group. The main emphasis for the business was the triode ion pump. The triode ion pump, the reason that it was desirable was because of its capability of pumping some inert gases. Since argon is present in about 1% of the gas in air, if you have a small leak in the system, in a diode ion pump system, for example, the argon would build up to the point where the ion pump would fail. So the objective was to emphasize the triode ion pump.
Now, it turned out the vacuum business was not large enough for GE to maintain a significant interest. So it was abandoned in the 1970s.

WHETTEN: As I recall, you were Manager of Engineering. Is that correct?

YOUNG: For a period, yes.

WHETTEN: Of vacuum products?


WHETTEN: I know that Peter Clarke is one of the people getting an award at this year's symposium, the Nerken Award. He worked for you, as I understand it. He wrote me an e-mail expressing how he learned everything he knows about vacuum from Roger Young. I actually was hoping that he would be there.
You've been retired now from GE for, what, almost ten years? Are you still working in vacuum?

YOUNG: Yes, in a way. After retirement, I joined the Teltech Corporation, which is set up to provide usually small companies with some expert advice by the telephone. This turns out to be a fairly successful operation. For example, one client called me and he asked if I knew of any material which would permit oxygen to permeate but not CO2 and water vapor. I suggested that he use silver. We had used silver for a long time for introducing oxygen into the vacuum system by heating it to a temperature of 400 degrees centigrade or higher. Presumably, this was satisfactory for him. I still get on the order of a half-a-dozen calls a year from this organization.

WHETTEN: Great. This all sort of reminds me, have you ever heard of a company called Vacuum Unlimited, Roger?


WHETTEN: [Laughs] I refuse to… Okay, that's an inside joke, I guess. Roger and I once formed a company for a short time, before GE got into the vacuum business, sold some vacuum equipment under that name. Anything else you'd like to say?

YOUNG: No. Not a thing.

WHETTEN: Okay, I guess that is it.

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