AVS Historical Persons | Maurice Francombe - 1993

Maurice Francombe - 1993

Oral History Interview with Maurice Francombe

Interviewed by John Vossen, November 17, 1993
VOSSEN: My name is John Vossen. I'm here today to interview Dr. Maurice Francombe. It's the 17th of November 1993, and we're at the 40th National Symposium of the American Vacuum Society in Orlando. Maurice has had a long, distinguished career and a long association with the American Vacuum Society dating back to 1960. He recently retired from Westinghouse, where he directed mainly the electronic and electro-optic applications of thin films for many, many years. He's currently still a consultant to Westinghouse. He's also an adjunct professor at Georgia State University, where he's actively working in semiconductor junction and quantum well structures. Maurice, it's a pleasure to see you here today.

FRANCOMBE: It's a pleasure to be here.

VOSSEN: You came to this country from England in 1958. Can you tell us what brought you here and what you've been doing?

francombe.JPGFRANCOMBE: Well, I had been working in England for several years before coming, but like a lot of other people, I saw no prospect for professional advancement, and I think this was probably the general situation in Europe. A lot of people were looking towards the States. After Sputnik appeared on the scene and the space program got underway, this appeared to be the place to go.

VOSSEN: You also contributed a lot to MBE [Molecular Beam Epitaxy], sputtering, photoelectric films, things of that sort. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

FRANCOMBE: My first job in the States was at the Philco Scientific Labs in Philadelphia, and their interest at that time was mainly in thin film components. But they were, like everyone else, shooting for the space applications. I finished up, within a few months or a year, being deeply involved in capacitor structures, resistors, thin film magnetics for permalloy matrices and memories - things which I hadn't done before, but which appeared very interesting and, in fact, brought me into the vacuum world.

VOSSEN: You also have a very high interest in oriented films, photoelectric films, and that sort of thing. Where is that all at this point, and where do you think it's going?

FRANCOMBE: As you noted in your talk at the history session, vacuum was in pretty poor condition back in the early ‘60s, but there was, nevertheless, a great desire to produce active devices, thin film devices. And of course, these required rather highly perfect crystalline material, particular of the semiconductors. So, I got interested in the problems of how do you grow single-crystal or oriented films for junctions, ferroelectric and electro-optic devices. None of these would work unless you had something which was near to a single crystal. I think this early interest and need for oriented growth is being borne out. It's now becoming a multi-billion dollar market and industry, and I think it's still growing.

VOSSEN: Maurice, you've also had a lot of involvement in numerous official and unofficial capacities within the AVS. Could you share with us some of your experiences there?

FRANCOMBE: Well, let's see. Over a period of 30 years, it's difficult to pick highlights! Actually, among the people I knew in Philco was a chap called Leon Maissel. Leon was, I should think, the person who introduced me to sputtering. At that time, the AVS was beginning to establish its thin film credentials, and I was an early member. We were very interested in seeing the Society grow still further, and I think the key leader in that process for thin films was a guy called Klaus Behrndt. Klaus was dynamic, controversial, and perhaps occasionally abrasive, but nevertheless, you couldn't ignore him. He dragged Connie Naugebauer, Dick Hoffman, Fred Wehner and myself into this venture. But, I guess by about '63 or '64, the Thin Film Division1 saw itself inducted into the AVS as a formal group. The other figures who were on the scene at that time were people like - well, of course, Jim Lafferty and Paul Redhead, who were very active as Presidents. But key people on the Board of Directors included, I think, Ron Bunshah, Luther Preuss, and others who had a vision of where thin films and other technical activities were moving. I found this a very exciting period.

VOSSEN: And you have been a Chairman of the Thin Film Division and also President of the Society, right?

FRANCOMBE: That's right. I think I was Chairman in '67. I was the third Chairman of the Thin Film Division, and President in '73.

VOSSEN: Was there anything memorable that happened during your presidency?

FRANCOMBE: I would like to claim that something earth-shaking happened, but in fact I experienced a fairly normal, uneventful presidency, largely I think because my predecessor was a guy called Dan Bills, who, if nothing else, put the Society on its firmest financial foundations since its creation. So, Dan gave me a little advanced training of how to keep it solid.

VOSSEN: Could you give us a view of where the fields in which you're interested in at this point appear to be headed?

FRANCOMBE: I think the semiconductor and solid-state industry is now being driven by communications and computer markets, and to some extent by Defense interests, and therefore things like covert imaging and high-speed or high-frequency radar systems. And all of these products, to a large extent, require single-crystal or highly oriented film components. So, I don't think this interest is going to wither away. There's going to be a big expansion, and I think this is going to impact three-dimensional integrated circuit structures, so-called topological nanostructure type devices, electro-optic displays, infrared components, communication integrated optics components. There's a whole long list. And indeed, high-temperature superconductors, which appeared on the scene five to six years ago, will not work properly unless they're single crystal. So, I think the writing is on the wall. You've got to grow it in a perfect oriented form to make it work.

VOSSEN: That about covers it, Jim. That's all the crib sheet says. [Laughter] 

1. The Thin Film Division was formed in 1964.

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