AVS Historical Persons | Ron Bunshah - 1993

Ron Bunshah - 1993

Oral History Interview with Ron Bunshah

Interviewed by Bill Sproul, November 17, 1993

SPROUL: Good afternoon. I'm Bill Sproul from the Industrial Research Laboratory at Northwestern University. I'm also the current Secretary of the Vacuum Metallurgy Division. This afternoon, and it is Wednesday, the 17th of November 1993, I have the pleasure of interviewing Professor Ron Bunshah, one of the early pioneers in PVD hard coatings. It certainly is a pleasure to be doing this. 
Ron, I'd like to start off by asking you where did you get started in vacuum technology, and about what year was that?

bunshah.JPGBUNSHAH: Thank you, Bill. I got started in vacuum technology and vacuum metallurgy in 1954 when I was at New York University. At that time, we were working on titanium metallurgy, and obviously you have to handle titanium, both the melting and the heat treatment, in vacuum. So that's how I got started.

SPROUL: So you got started in the true sense of vacuum metallurgy. But then, obviously, you've done a lot of work with evaporation. How did you get into evaporation from the melting of materials?

BUNSHAH: First, I should like to mention that I'm an old melter! My first job was a melter on a steel furnace! [Chuckles] In 1960, I moved to the Lawrence Livermore Laboratories, then known as the Lawrence Radiation Laboratories, and my first job was to prepare very high-purity beryllium. I realized that the only way to do that was to get rid of some of the impurities by vacuum melting, followed by distillation and collection of the material as a sheet. So, I was actually able to make very pure beryllium. It was ductile. You could bend it very nicely.

SPROUL: Who were some of your early contacts in this time frame of 1960?

BUNSHAH: My early contacts at that time - see, I was at Livermore, and there was Hugh Smith and Charlie Hunt in Berkeley at the Temescal Metallurgical Corporation. I had known Hugh earlier, so when I moved to Livermore, those were my obvious contacts. We worked quite closely together to develop some other vacuum deposition apparatus.

SPROUL: How did you get started in the AVS?

BUNSHAH: When I first was running the vacuum metallurgy courses and conferences at New York University from '57 to '60. In '60 when I left New York University to come to Lawrence Livermore Laboratories, there was a contact between the various societies and us - us meaning the New York University people. And we settled on becoming a Division of the American Vacuum Society. At that time, Ben Dayton was the President of the Society. We established the Vacuum Metallurgy Division of AVS in 1960. From there on, I was on the Board of Directors 1, I guess for two terms: first early in the '60s, and then later on. I did various things with the Board of Directors. I had various tasks that I was involved in - Chapters and Divisions being one, which sticks in my mind. And in '71, I was elected the President of AVS. Actually, I was elected President-elect, and then I became President. I guess I'm the only President2 to serve 15 months because we switched the calendar year from October to October, to a calendar year. So actually I had to run two budget meetings, which were always the highlight of the year. [Laughs]

SPROUL: With your early association in the AVS, you have been very much associated with hard coating. How, from evaporation, did you get into the hard coating things?

BUNSHAH: Well, when I was at Livermore, we developed the high-rate evaporation processes, which, again, I was working with Hunt and Smith at that time. I moved to UCLA in 1969. I was very lucky to get a rather large, unrestricted grant form ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency) to explore what could be done with evaporation processes. So that gave me the opportunity to develop deposition of alloys, and more specifically, the activated reactive evaporation process, which is, as you know, the precursor of the basic process for plasma-assisted deposition of refractory compounds.

SPROUL: So, your ARE [Activated Reactive Evaporation] work is really the result of the infusion of money through ARPA.


SPROUL: Then obviously, with your associating with hard coatings, the ICMC came up - the International Conference on Metallurgical Coating. It wasn't called that initially. What was it?

BUNSHAH: Well, since I was working in this area, I have an amusing story to tell. I remember the Pittsburgh VMD meeting. The whole afternoon session on one day, I had six papers in a row. Don Carmichael got me a beer in between. [Laughs] Since I was working in this area, I met John Thornton, so one thing led to another. He said, "Well, why shouldn't we gather together people of like interests?" And we started what is the ICMC, or the International Conference on Metallurgical Coatings, in '74. But at that time, we called it the Conference on Structure / Property Relationships in Thick Films and Bulk Coatings. The reason for that was that, at one of the Board of Directors meetings, there was going to be strong opposition from the Thin Film Division to having somebody else encroach on their territory, so I thought that this would be a neat way out of the dilemma. And then we could do whatever we wanted.

SPROUL: Now, you hold a record within that conference of being chairman. How many years did you serve as chairman?

BUNSHAH: Ten years. Some years, I was the program chairman, the general chairman, and one year, I was even the local arrangements chairman, thanks to my students.

SPROUL: In the past few years, it's changed name again. Why did that change come about?

BUNSHAH: Well, this was a very awkward name, so Harry Wieder, who was one of our champions at the conference from the electronic materials side, suggested, "Well, just call it the International Conference on Metallurgical Coatings. It's this sort of nice, global, all-encompassing name." And then, as you know, in 1991, we started cosponsoring the conference with the Thin Films Division, so now it is ICMCTF.

SPROUL: You're obviously internationally known for all your work, and you have been involved in the international vacuum society. What way have you been involved with IUVSTA [International Union for Vacuum Science Technique and Applications?

BUNSHAH: With IUVSTA, in the '60s, when Professor Venema was the President of IUVSTA, he encouraged some kind of participation in IUVSTA from the Vacuum Metallurgy Division. But that didn't really materialize until, I think, the Madrid meeting in '83, when Jim Lafferty and some of the other people suggested that we take an active part and start a division. So we started the Vacuum Metallurgy Division off IUVSTA in '83.

SPROUL: So you're responsible for the Vacuum Metallurgy Division within IUVSTA.

BUNSHAH: Yes. And we have three meetings now where we have participated since then.

SPROUL: And we're actively planning for the next one.


SPROUL: Tell me about your recent work. What are you into now? What are the hot topics for you right now?

BUNSHAH: Well, the hot topics for me right now are diamond filaments, where we have developed the new process for diamond filaments, which I will talk about at the '94 ICMC meeting. We have done large-area, high TC, superconducting films. And we have a very successful ongoing program on thin film temperature sensors. So, being that now I am professor emeritus, that's enough to keep me busy half-time!

SPROUL: I can imagine. To wrap this up, what is your perspective on all these years on your involvement with the AVS and the Vacuum Metallurgy Division and the ICMC?

BUNSHAH: Well, I think I would like to answer that question in a broader context. As you know, I'm giving a paper tomorrow on the history and future of vacuum metallurgy. Of course, in preparing that paper, it became rather obvious to me that the real pioneering and the basic scientific work was all done before 1910, if you can believe that. In fact, I would like to cite a patent given to Marcello Pirani in 1907, a US patent, which talks about the electron beam melting and purification of refractory metals. The real implementation of this basic scientific work, of course, had to wait until after the Second World War, when high-throughput vacuum pumps and systems were available. And I think it was in the 1960s that Hugh Smith and Charles Hunt at Temescal Metallurgical Corporation did the large-scale electron beam melting and purification processes. And then, of course, if you look at the other side of vacuum metallurgy, namely the deposition technology, again, a lot of work on deposition technology was done in the early days. Let me give you the books of Strong3, and particularly of Holland4, as classics in the field. And again, as you know, much of the serious industrial work in this area is now being done in the late '60s, early '70s, and the years subsequent to that. I would say that the Vacuum Metallurgy Division in AVS has always played a very key role in this whole business because they have enabled the meetings of people from all over the world to be held. As you know, at the ICMC, we have more foreign participation than at many other conferences. I would like to say that there are some real giants in the field, like Siegfried Schiller from Germany and Chikara Hayashi from Japan, who have been involved both in the melting and the deposition side. My hat is off to them.

SPROUL: Thank you.

1. He was a Director for 2 years, from 1967 to 1969
2. President from October, 1970 till Dec 31, 1971

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