AVS Historical Persons | Steve Rossnagel - 2010

Steve Rossnagel - 2010

Oral History Interview with Steve Rossnagel

Interviewed by Paul Holloway, October 20, 2010
 
HOLLOWAY: Let me introduce myself. I'm Paul Holloway. I'm a member of the AVS History Committee. Today is Wednesday, October 20, 2010, and we're at the 57th International Symposium of the AVS in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Steve Rossnagel from IBM's T. J. Watson Research Center. Steve is a person of historical note for the AVS, having served in many capacities for the Society. How about starting, Steve, by giving me your date of birth and place of birth. 

ROSSNAGE.JPGROSSNAGEL: I was born in Pennsylvania in a little town called Summit Hill in April 1954, and grew up in Pennsylvania. I went to Penn State, and in the early '70s ended up being assigned to work as a work-study student for Bruce Kendall in the Physics Department at Penn State. So he was my undergraduate advisor, and he took me on as a work-study student in about '73. He said, "You should join the AVS." So I joined the AVS as a student somewhere around that time, the'73, '74 timeframe. So I'm closing on a 40-year membership but it's not quite there yet. 

I worked with Bruce on vacuum technology, and went through a master's degree there, and the first master's project was a satellite package of mass spectrometers for the ionosphere. I spent a year on that, the first year of graduate school. And I went to Wallops Island, and after many trips, the rocket went up and the second stage never fired, and so the package all came back down again. So I did another master's degree, essentially a second project in a lab in Bruce's area that had no connection to NASA. I made a Brownian motion pressure gauge where we levitated graphite diamagnetically in a vacuum system. The idea was that Brownian motion would cause it to jiggle more and more and more, and as the pressure got lower the jiggling got higher, so it got more sensitive as the pressure got lower. 

HOLLOWAY: The mean free path of the jiggle went up.

ROSSNAGEL: Yes. It never really worked well, but we made some developments on it. Then I finished the master's and went to Princeton, worked with Fred Dylla and Sam Cohen on surface analysis in tokamaks. This was in the mid to late '70s; so we hooked up Auger spectrometers to sample handlers that were at the edge of tokamaks to try and make a measurement between the tokamak pulses, which were about five minutes apart. Did that for a couple of years. Left in about 1980 and went to Colorado, back to graduate school, and the reason for going there was my wife finished her PhD and that was where she got a job as an assistant professor, so we went there. 

HOLLOWAY: Good idea!

ROSSNAGEL: So I worked for Harold Kaufman in Colorado State doing sputtering. Kaufman was an ion beam guy, but he had one applications program which was sputtering, and we looked at sputter cones, and other things that turned out to be carbon nanotubes, but we didn't know it at the time.

HOLLOWAY: So what caused the cones to develop?

ROSSNAGEL: Well the cones were made by sputtering a pure metal like copper in the presence of a very dilute impurity, like one percent of a refractory metal, and with adequate temperature, that dopant would segregate and form a little cluster that was actually stable during the ion bombardment because it was fed at the same rate it was etched. That would form a topography, and you could basically measure the surface diffusion activation energy by looking at the temperature dependence of the spacing. Ended up kind of rediscovering bombardment enhanced surface diffusion, which is a nonlinear effect and very difficult to quantify, but that was interesting. Then went, after PhD, to IBM as a post-doc for Jerry Cuomo and worked in Cuomo's lab for five or six years doing mostly sputtering. We did a lot of work with magnetrons at the time, a lot of magnetron measurements. Developed things like collimated magnetron and ionized sputtering that had a lot of application in the industry, and in the '90s a lot of these things really took off, broadly used in production for mostly interconnect applications. Then in the late '90s, we got into ALD, started doing plasma enhanced ALD with a guy named Art Sherman who had been at Varian and sort of retired or so. 

HOLLOWAY: Sherman was at IBM?

ROSSNAGEL: Sherman was at Varian, but then he was sort of retired forcibly in the late '90s. He had this pet project that he was doing in a garage in Palo Alto, and so I gave him some equipment, and we did this thing together, and presented the first ALD talk at AVS in about '99 or so. I've been doing ALD on and off pretty much ever since. I have a bio project for this DNA detector. 

In terms of AVS, I joined as a student sometime in the early '70s. In the late '70s at Princeton with Fred was instrumental in signing up to start the Fusion Division, which I don't remember what it was officially called, but it was essentially the Fusion Division1

HOLLOWAY: I think it was essentially a fusion division. 

ROSSNAGEL: It was plasma technology pointed towards fusion applications, which was a big thing at the time. And then after, I ended up back in the plasma technology business at IBM, and was helpful in evolving that Division from fusion towards more plasma technology, industrial sputtering and etching technology. 

HOLLOWAY: Some of that was driven by the fact that fusion funding was drying up. Some of it was driven by the fact that there were new opportunities in science and technology in the plasma processing. How much was which?

Rossnagel99.JPGROSSNAGEL: Well, I think it was more industry driven. The fusion business is still there: it just never grew; it just sort of was stable. But two changes in silicon technology in the early '80s that changed from evaporative liftoff technology to a sputter based aluminum RIE technology, which then brought in the plasma steps for sputtering of aluminum, for reactive etching patterning of aluminum and for planarization of silicon dioxide. So, sort of the bias-sputtering of silicon dioxide. So a lot of work was done in the '80s and kind of the early evolution of magnetrons for deposition and then the etching technology.  And then in the late '90s we developed at IBM what we now call damascene technology. Aluminum didn't scale. Aluminum, you can't make too many layers. You can't keep planarizing it, and you don't have the right depth of field. So this damascene technology was developed at IBM in late '80s, which is a trench-fill and a CMP approach to make sort of self-planarizing levels. Different technologies are required. Etching technologies and metallization technologies for making seed layers and barriers, and that's where first the collimation and then secondly the ionized PVD approaches became absolutely fundamental, and they're used industry wide. But in the late '80s and early '90s there was a lot of work in the Plasma Science and Technology Division, which is what it had become, and the fusion stuff was pretty much left behind. So I think it was more that the industry took off rather than the fusion died, and the growth was all in the industry. 

So I was involved in what then became the Plasma Science and Technology Division. I think I was chair2 sometime in the late '80s. Around 1990 I was nominated for the Board, and I think it was by Dave Hoffman; I can't quite remember. But it also turned out that year I got the Pater Mark Memorial Award for early magnetron work3. I think getting the award the same year you're nominated for the Board is a good thing [laughter] because there's a little name recognition, and so I got elected to the Board the first time. Just before the first Board meeting, I forget who it was asked, but basically Sam Bader had been Publications Committee Chair and he was tired of it. And I don't know again if it was Dave or Fred, but someone said, "You should take over publications." And at the time it was a real backwater. AIP4 did all the work, and the Publication Committee Chair didn't do much. I looked at it and said that's half the budget of the AVS. That's got to be interesting.

HOLLOWAY: Yeah, you got to be critical to the AVS.

ROSSNAGEL: Yes. And so I did that5 and right away started looking into the publishing, and it was just a horrible mess. They were shipping manuscripts to third-world countries to be retyped, and this was in kind of the early computerization, early sort of pre-Internet days, and we decided we wanted an electronic product, and AIP was not supportive of this. So we started shopping other publishers, and we started letting AIP know that we were shopping other publishers, and they begrudgingly decided to do a CD-ROM project for us.

HOLLOWAY: Kicking and screaming, huh?

ROSSNAGEL: In '93... And Fred, who now runs AIP publishing, actually tried to stop it. He didn't necessarily try to stop it, but I remember at a Board meeting, Fred was President, and I brought up the progress on this, and Fred made some comments to the point, "Well, the Board really needs to approve this and make a decision on it." And I had, knowing how the budget worked, put in the budget amount for this in the previous cycle, and it was an approved budget item, and I responded to Fred that it was approved and we'll report on how the approved project goes. And Fred was very, you know, he was happy with that, and he liked the project in the end. In about '94, we converted the journal completely to electronic, and I ended up getting invited to talk to publishing conferences, because at the time there were very few conversions, and people were talking about starting electronic journals, but they didn't really know how to do this. The net for our decision on how to deal with electronic publishing was that once you had the content electronic, you had an electronic page; then the decision of whether you print a page or you make a CD-ROM or whether you send it to a website is just a decision. It's the same tape at the end of the month. You just make three copies and send one to the printer and one to the website and one to the CD guy, and the users decide what they want. It was kind of a non-electronic approach to publishing in the sense that it's simple once you get it in the right format, then the user decides how they want to receive it. And it's not electronic publishing then. It's just publishing. It's just another option. That was the mid '90s.

HOLLOWAY: So you were head of publications6 After you were on the Board or while you were on the Board?

ROSSNAGEL: Sort of I think while I was on the Board and then after I was on the Board. I went of the Board, I guess, in '92. I did publishing until about '95, and was asked by Bill Sproul to chair the '96 Symposium, which was in Philadelphia. There was a problem in the '95 conference with the database; we had used this old dBase II database then - a guy named Mike Slade had organized this at Xerox - and there was some problem that year that got screwed up and there was sort of an insurrection in the whole process, and this was very frustrating. I forgot who the Chair was that year7. But In any case, we decided to have a new database and avoid this entire problem by just starting a new database and a more modern one. So we worked with a local guy, whose name I can't quite recall but who's still our software guy, to build an access database, and this was done for the '96 Symposium and we're actually still using it today. It's a web-based approach. And for the first couple of years we had web or paper submission, but the web deadline was later, and knowing how everyone does their abstract at the last minute, you know, we got fewer and fewer paper abstracts every year.

HOLLOWAY: Procrastination drove them in the right direction.

ROSSNAGEL: Drove them to the electronic version. So that went well. Philadelphia was a relatively healthy conference. Wasn't as healthy as San Jose the year after, because that was kind of the highpoint in '97. But then I was asked to run for President, and I ran against Bill Westwood. This was a very daunting process because Bill was one of the senior people in the field. So I looked through the past couple of elections and realized that in each case the winner had the longer resume on the ballot, so I asked Yvonne (Towse) for a copy of Bill's resume just to make sure I didn't duplicate anything and made mine 50 percent longer, and I think that's how I got elected president. Bill stills gets a kick out of it.

HOLLOWAY: That's a remarkable correlation. I had never heard that correlation before. 

ROSSNAGEL: It works almost every year. It didn't work this year I guess, but almost every year, year after year, the longer resume wins, and even sometimes when it's against a woman. But in any case, I was President-elect in '98 when Jerry Woodall was President, and then President in '99. 

About that time, Rey [Whetten] was slowing his work as Treasurer, and he was also doing the Technical Director work, so the decision was made to move the position over and John Coburn came in. But the year that I was President-elect Peter [Burke] had just started, and so I worked with Peter all that year to try and make a new electronic budget, kind of a modern spreadsheet based budget. Rey had done it for decades, and Rey knew exactly where everything was, but it was a little hard for everyone to figure it out at times. And so Peter started this new budget, and so that was ready for '99 when I was President. 

The year I was President, nothing dramatic happened particularly. The one evolution was that Donna Bakale-Sherwin, who had been doing our Newsletter and marketing for many years, decided early in that year that she was just tired of doing all this and wanted to move on. We weren't quite sure what to do, so we decided to set up a California office. Della [Miller] had worked for Donna, and so we arranged to hire Della as an AVS employee and set up the California office in San Jose at the time, as that's where Della lived at the time. This was a little contentious of the board. Joe [Greene] was not particularly supportive of this, but we were able to overcome that, and so that office was set up middle of the year some place in San Jose.

HOLLOWAY: And now it continues through today. Is that right?

ROSSNAGEL: That continues through today, although the office was moved about five years ago. Della moved form San Jose to a place called Chico, which is somewhere near Sacramento, and so the office kind of went with her. And Heather [Korff], I think, moved as well with her. I'm not quite sure why that move was made. I think maybe her husband wanted to move there... something. I don't know what happened, but that office was moved. 

The other significant issue that came up during that year was the kind of personal decision; the role of Technical Director had faded, and we had some questions whether we really wanted an Executive Director approach or a straight President approach, and finally the decision was made that the Technical Director position was perhaps no longer so good in the structure of the AVS, and so that was the year that the position was ended, and I was responsible for ending that. I'm comfortable with it because of the people involved.

HOLLOWAY: Right. It's always tough to terminate some activities like that. 

ROSSNAGEL: But it had been an incredibly useful position in the early '90s in the transition from moving the New York office, bringing on Yvonne [Towse], kind of all those steps. And by the late '90s it was, to me, starting to be a concern that we were bifurcating into this Presidential side and the Technical Director side. It was better to kind of go back to where we came from and stay with the Presidential side. So that was probably the only tricky personnel issue that came up that year. Otherwise, it was a pretty uneventful year. We didn't try to change the name or the tagline or anything! 

HOLLOWAY: Well, I had thought that had been an ongoing discussion for the last 20 years. 

ROSSNAGEL: We took that off for a year and did other things. So after being President, I wanted to get out of things for a while, so I left all committees and so on for a year or two. Then sometime in the early 2000s there was an opening in the Marketing Committee, and they had no idea who would do this; so they asked if I would step in. I forget who it was; it was Bruce [Sartwell] or someone, asked if I would step in and help with marketing. I looked at this and said "Della does all our marketing. The Committee doesn't really do it, but I'm happy to work with Della on it." Did that for a couple years8. And then in about 2006 or so there was some thought that John Coburn had done enough years, and they wanted a turnover at that point and asked if I would become the Treasurer. So I don't remember what year I became Treasurer, maybe 2007, maybe 2008. I don't know exactly, and so I have been Treasurer since that time 9.

HOLLOWAY: What changes have you implemented in the Treasurer's position?

Rossnagel09.jpgROSSNAGEL: Well, the biggest thing the Treasurer should do is not do anything, because Peter [Burke] does all the work. But the most important thing we did was with the office, and in about 2007 or '8, we renewed the lease on the 120 Wall Street location. Yvonne got a good deal and it's a fairly low price for a New York City office. But the new lease came with an escape clause for the building owner, and this was that they could kick us out in six months any time they felt like it. And it's like, well, that's not a lease. Well, it is and it isn't. It's a lease with an escape clause in it, and we decided we didn't want to live under those conditions, and we had seven million dollars in the bank and decided "let's go get a place and then we don't have to worry about landlords anymore". This had been money that we'd had since the early '90s because we were originally going to buy the office at 120 Wall Street and that never happened because the building never really ended up going condo. So Yvonne and I searched all over lower New York for offices. We looked at other places, too, but everyone wanted to stay in New York because the staff didn't want to relocate. And eventually found a place two blocks away on Maiden Lane. It's a quarter of a floor. Didn't have quite as good views as the Wall Street office! Looks out over the South Street Sea Port. It's just a, you know, rectangular office complex. And the Board went for this fairly well, and our timing turned out to be very good. In around 2007, in September, the stock market peaked - this is before the massive falloff - and we sold two and a half million dollars worth of stock within one week of the peak of the all-time peak! 

HOLLOWAY: Wow, I wish you had called and told me this information! [Laughs] 

ROSSNAGEL: We sold it all and we bought this office, and then over the coming year had to spend about a million dollars to renovate it. But by the time it was all done the rest of our investments had dropped so much it's almost like we got the office for free, you know, because it kind of preserved the value at that point. So we renovated the offices with the intention of looking forward. So we had very few file cabinets. The other office at Wall Street had file cabinets everywhere that saved everything. I think the rule was one file drawer per employee, and we got a big scanner, and the idea was you scan everything and save it electronically. So we moved in there. We also had been running into systematic problems with Board meetings in New York City, not finding a place to have the Board meeting. So we designed the office space at 125 Maiden Lane so that we could reconfigure it to have a Board meeting in our own offices. So a third of the site reconfigures, and the walls move, you rearrange tables and we can have a 40-person Board meeting in our own site without having to rent any place. That was a really nice design issue, and Yvonne did most of that. We also set up display cases for historic gauges and things, and so they're set up in the offices. 

HOLLOWAY: Tracing our roots back to vacuum.

ROSSNAGEL: Yes, if anyone ever visits the New York office, which few people do, we have some old gauge tubes, and we have Dave Hoffman's old sputter system on a display table that actually works now. So that's pretty much set, and so the past couple of years of Treasurer have been, I think, fairly straightforward; there are no big issues. Financially we're slowly slipping, but it's not a dramatic problem. 

HOLLOWAY: How does a young aspiring person get involved with activities like that? You got drafted by your mentors. Is that the most effective way to become involved?

ROSSNAGEL: I think it does come through the mentors. The people that I worked for all had good AVS connections: Bruce Kendall, Fred Dylla, Jerry Cuomo. Each of these people was strongly involved with the AVS. I wasn't required to join, but I was just encouraged that this is the appropriate outlet for technical activities, and it's sort of your peer group. I think, you know, all the advertising in the world is not as useful as having a couple of advisors say you should go to the conference, you should present a paper or submit an article. It does come down to, I think, a personal rather than a marketing approach. Marketing doesn't hurt, but there are a lot of distractions, and there's a lot of marketing out there for everybody. So when we look at new people coming in at IBM, I look for an AVS connection. It's not always there, but from the topics that I work in, there should be an AVS or an MRS tie somewhere in that resume. They should have been doing something, or else they were not in the right field. As we bring in post-docs, we suggest they go to the AVS meeting, we suggest they publish on a regular basis. I have, I think, two or three post-docs here this week and openings for two or three more. So I have a couple of job descriptions up in the Job Center. The sad part is we're just not hiring that many permanent staff anymore.

HOLLOWAY: So what characteristics do you look for in the post-docs that you hire?

ROSSNAGEL: The most important characteristic in a post-doc is curiosity, and the thing is that's not a very quantitative field. But I mentioned the other night that one of the first things I ask a post-doc in an interview is why you chose that topic, and very often they basically say my advisor told me to work on that topic. And there's an aspect of assignments that are important - we all have job descriptions and things we're supposed to be doing. But for something as important as a PhD, you would hope the student put something of their own into it and developed it beyond, and not so much told the advisor what he was doing but led rather than being led. What we're looking for at IBM are colleagues, not assistants. We're looking for someone you can work with next week after they're no longer a student, and if they want to be a student forever that's not very helpful. That's a maturity issue that unfortunately doesn't translate well into other cultures, and so, for example, the students from East Asia tend to be more hierarchical in nature and they're less good at that collegial kind of equal type of connection. It takes a little longer to kind of get them up to that point. So it's probably that curiosity is the most important thing

And then, sort of maturity or responsibility. The best employees that we would have are people that don't need to be led, don't need to be told what to do, and just bring results and anticipate what's next and deal with it rather than being told what to do. In fact at IBM, the sort of unwritten rule for a research staff member is if you're ever told what to do, you have failed, you don't belong there, because you should be telling your manager what needs to be done and doing it, and the manager should be your support person rather than the person who tells you what to do. It doesn't always work, and that's sort of the old IBM. There's a lot of new IBM where it's assignment based because it's more engineering focused these days, but there's a couple of us left that still get to do sort of what we want. 

HOLLOWAY: So you've seen major transitions at the Yorktown facility, and it's mostly away from hardware and towards software.

ROSSNAGEL: It's certainly away from hardware. Back in the '90s we probably had 75 AVS members at Yorktown Heights, and now we probably have 15, and part of that is just that departments have shrunk. Got rid of surface analysis back in the '90s. We had a big surface analysis department, and it's like, well, it was decided that surface analysis is a service. And they'd keep a couple of service tools, but no more science, and those people moved on and did other things, either outside or inside. Certainly there's been a lot of emphasis on the engineering support for the evolution of microprocessors at IBM, and that takes a lot of people's time. Now there's more of a forward looking "what's out there past silicon" world, and the difficulty there is that you have to sort of bootstrap projects. You need to get a project far enough along to get results to justify continuing and supporting the project, but you also have to hide the project at the beginning because you don't have the resources to do it. That transition is kind of risky. You end up working in non-strategic things until they become strategic. And if they don't become strategic, or while they are non-strategic, you're job is at risk because you're doing something weird. And yet some of them work and other ones just kind of drift away. So it's very challenging, I think, to manage research at the very large industrial scale. You end up just doing engineering and iterative evolution development. The science parts are very hard to manage. 

HOLLOWAY: Now initially, the perception at least was that most of the funding for your research at IBM came from internal. Now you look for external funding as well. 

ROSSNAGEL: In some departments the funding is almost 100 percent external. The internal money has faded. In our particular case, we have set up a 300-millimeter pilot facility in Albany at Albany Nanotech, and that turns out to become a massive hole for money, and so all of our corporate money gets siphoned off and sent to Albany.

HOLLOWAY: Is that at SUNY Albany?

ROSSNAGEL: Yeah, it's associated with SUNY Albany. It's the Albany Nanotech 
College I guess. I guess it's part of SUNY. The site there is a hybrid site, though; it's sort of a consortia site. It's interesting, but the difficulty with that is it's all 300-millimeter, and 300-millimeter tools only do very specific things, and it's very hard to change them or to do any research on them. And they're so big and expensive that you really can't touch them, and so it's very, very limited as to what you can do there. That's more integration based, and it's not basic science work. At Yorktown, we stayed at 200-millimeter, and do things with e-beam and bio and a variety of other areas, including a lot of solar work, and these are externally supported. We probably bring in $60 or $70 million a year in externally supported silicon technology areas. 

HOLLOWAY: So what fraction of your current activities is involved with traditional silicon-based semiconductor devices? 

ROSSNAGEL: I have one sort of baseline internal responsibility, and that is for our 200-millimeter pilot line I'm responsible for the metal technologies, and that is, for the most part, sputtering for seed layers, and plating, and barriers, and so on. It's CVD of things like tungsten and titanium nitride. It's ALD of nitrides, some metals, and we've just gotten a new plasma ALD tool from Cambridge Nanotech. So we've got probably seven or eight big metals tools. We've got two evaporators, and these are run as a service for this pilot line. So that's maybe 30 or 40 percent of my responsibility. We have a new DNA nanopore project which is externally funded from NIH and from a company called Roche, and that's to make a detector to sequence DNA by pulling it through a nanopore with electrodes. We have a little project on ultra-capacitors. We have another project on silicon nitride for photovoltaic applications. We have another project on piezoresistive devices, and another handful of things here and there. Most of those, though, are externally supported.

HOLLOWAY: So how many people do you have working with you in your group?

ROSSNAGEL: In my metals area I have five guys who run tools, maybe six. I think one started this week. In the bio area, we have four post-docs and one student, and in the other areas I've got one or two people here and there. 

HOLLOWAY: So the NIH grant, is that a consortium grant or is it a strictly IBM grant?

ROSSNAGEL: Straight IBM NIH funding for the nanopore project.

HOLLOWAY: So how in the world did you learn bio?

ROSSNAGEL: Well, we're not trying to relearn bio. What we're trying to do is convert silicon technology to bio applications, and this is actually kind of intriguing because the bio people don't know anything about silicon or anything about integration. And we know a lot about that; so we were able to build these two-nanometer devices with two-nanometer electrodes in them for this DNA application. We've had to learn a lot about electrolytes and chemistry, and DNA is actually a fairly simple chemical in the sense of it's a strand, and it's either single-stranded or double-stranded based on how you treat it, and it's ionizable at the right pH. But we had to learn a lot about electrolytes and Debye shielding and so on that are actually very similar to plasmas. So the bio part, it's coming. We're hiring people now, biophysicists. We haven't hired any true biologists yet. We actually have a big bio department at IBM for computational bio, and this related to our supercomputer effort, and these guys do calculations of bio, protein foldings, and all sorts of crazy things. The goal was to try and develop drugs in a computer rather than with trials with chemicals and so on. So when we do our nanopore work, we have two post-docs who do molecular dynamics modeling of these nanopores, and they build the nanopore in the computer with 300,000 atoms, and that's enough to build a nanopore with DNA going through. Now, you do the Hamiltonian of each atom every picosecond, and just keep track of it all - that's what supercomputers are good for. We're probably the fourth largest user of the IBM super computer for those simulations. It makes great movies, and we post them on YouTube. 

HOLLOWAY: The graphics are pretty impressive on those things. Now, over your career, you started in tokamaks and went into sputtering and plasma processing, etc. What led you to those transformations?

ROSSNAGEL: Well, I actually started in vacuum technology with Bruce, and then did surface analysis in tokamaks, and then did ion beams and then plasma processing, then ALD and the now bio. Each case it seemed like a big transition, and then when you look back it wasn't. It was all the same physics and all the same things that you'd learned before. It was just a different application, and so it wasn't a big transition.

HOLLOWAY: It wasn't that you turned the spigot off on one side and turned the other one on. 

ROSSNAGEL: Start over, no. It was just sort of a 90-degree switch in direction, but it's still, you know, the basic physics was all the same. The vacuum base from working with Kendall thirty-five years ago is very useful. 

HOLLOWAY: Well, some transitions like that come about by conscious decision and some unconscious factors and decisions. How much was conscious on the transitions? 

ROSSNAGEL: I would say most of it was conscious but not always self-directed. When I worked with Jerry Cuomo in the mid to late '80s, he ran basically a service organization for thin-films, whether it was etching or deposition or whatever. This was for the whole laboratory, and people would come by and say, "Well, how do I do this?" or "How do I make that." His guidance at the time was "try not to say no to these people, and try and ask them what they really want to do. Try not to be a service person; try and be a collaborator." And that takes a lot of effort, because they basically just want something done. They don't want to have to explain it all. But they often don't know what they're doing. 

HOLLOWAY: And they don't really know what they want, in the final analysis.

ROSSNAGEL: And so that concept of not saying no has stayed with me, and I now have a situation in IBM where I would say an average of four or five times a day someone comes to my office and has a question, or has an interest, or has a new material, or has something weird they want to do. Half the time it's trivial, or not interesting, or we can't do that; half the time it's not that difficult; and once a month or so there's something weird that is unique, and if you said no, they'd go away and go to the next guy, or they'd never do it. And so that's where things like this DNA project comes from. Some crackpot question, and it's like "we could do that". These ultra-capacitors are that way. A lot of these things are people who come in with questions or interests, and the goal is to not to send them away. The downside of that is, when you say yes to everybody, nothing ever gets done, and so you have to eventually pick and choose where you focus. But that's why all these areas are not really dramatic changes. They're simply evolutions of what I was doing before, and now off into bio. Bio is just thin-films and plasma physics.

HOLLOWAY: But they have a jargon of their own that you have to learn sometimes.

ROSSNAGEL: Yeah, and that's not so bad. It's just reading. So it's been a very interesting place at IBM because of the freedom to try some of these things, and the lack of a true sort of engineering assignment.

HOLLOWAY: How much of a sales job do you have to do on your boss to allow you to go off in bio directions or something like that?

ROSSNAGEL: I did almost get fired for it, but it's not so much a sales... See, in IBM, you're not really asking for permission to do anything. You maybe need some resources. But the best relationship with a manager is you tell them what you've done, and they like that because they pass the information up through their management chain then, and it seems like they've done something. So you're not asking for permission. You don't really work for your manager at all. Your manager is a resource - he gives you space or post-docs or whatever. But as I said, if he tells you what to do, you have failed in your job, and so you never ask for permission. Every now and then you get a little far out in left field and you're a little exposed, and on this bio project, for example, we were exposed about two years ago, and we almost all got chucked aside. And then this NIH grant came through, and one of us put it in their monthly report or note or whatever, and somehow this percolated up through the company, and in October of last year we got contacted by the CEO of IBM's communication people who says, "The CEO of IBM is going to talk about your project at a plenary talk next week, and the New York Times will be calling you this afternoon. This is all organized, and you have to cooperate and be interviewed and do all these things," you know, for the project that we almost got canned for six months prior to that!

HOLLOWAY: So somebody finally woke up. 

ROSSNAGEL: Well, no, it became no longer a speculative project. Once the grant was there, then it was for real. And then this year we got another tens of millions project with a drug company, Roche, to continue the project. So now it's an established project, and we kind of move on and do other things as well. So we now have some interesting piezoelectric devices, piezoelectric resistive devices - we need to figure out how to do those. We're looking for post-silicon things that have a very high frequency or low voltage, and radiation hard if possible.

HOLLOWAY: So does this mean that IBM is in a new business model where they're no longer a microelectronics and computer company, I mean, for new opportunities?

ROSSNAGEL: I think the semiconductor business in IBM is not going to grow. It's a canned business.

HOLLOWAY: It's a mature business.

ROSSNAGEL: It's plan-able, and any time it gets to be like that, you assume that IBM is sooner or later going to spin it off. But these other areas, for example, this bio area relates directly to programs that IBM could have in its so-called smarter planet direction, dealing with management of information. So for example, your genome is three gigabits, and if you multiply that by the number of people in Florida, you're at 1015 bits, and multiply that by the number of people in the country and the world, you're at a number like 1020 bits. They're unique. They have incredible correlations within those databases. It's a massive, massive, data mining opportunity for a large company that has the capability, if you have the sensor, and if you have the way to get the data in and collect the data. So it makes perfect sense on a long-scale corporate technology direction. It's also an excellent storage mechanism, if you could reorient DNA. Your genome has a certain sequence of A, G, Cs, and Ts. Well, that's basically a four-bit memory device, and if you could reorient those in the correct way, you could put gigabits in a 50-micron strand of DNA and you could replicate it. It's a very high storage density device. So there's a lot of opportunity in sort of the DNA transistor, DNA storage business. It's a very interesting medium, if you can develop the right tools to work with it. 

HOLLOWAY: What about optical computing?

ROSSNAGEL: I don't know anything significant about optical computing.

HOLLOWAY: IBM does quantum computing. It just reminded me of the...

ROSSNAGEL: Well quantum computing we're working on. We're building q-bit devices, which are challenging to try and figure out how they work.

HOLLOWAY: Is there an overlap between quantum computing and DNA?

ROSSNAGEL: Not that I'm aware of. I don't understand quantum computing. I've had it explained to me several times and I just don't quite get it. 

HOLLOWAY: I don't either, so I can't explain it to you.

ROSSNAGEL: Someone explained it, and the simplest way that they could explain it is they said think of a loop of current, a loop of little superconducting wires running, and you can have current going through it clockwise. You can have current going through it counterclockwise at the same time. That's a q-bit. It's like, well, that makes a lot of sense. But I don't get it. We work on these programs. I help with these programs because they're material issues. But that part I don't necessarily understand.

HOLLOWAY: Your degrees were in material science?

ROSSNAGEL: All in physics.

HOLLOWAY: But your work is more material science.

ROSSNAGEL: Well I would say material science encompasses physics and some aspects of electrical engineering and now we're including bio, but sort of biophysics. You know, I think there's some point where the divisions of these fields don't really make that much sense anymore.

HOLLOWAY: How much attention do you pay to those fields of education when you're looking for somebody to hire?

ROSSNAGEL: It's almost irrelevant. So we would look at someone from a material science department, EE, Chem E, physics, applied physics, biophysics - to not look at straight chemists, because I just don't know enough chemistry. I work with lots of chemists. All the ALD guys are chemists. But I don't really do chemistry. I don't know that much about chemistry. No, we don't worry about the department generally. We look at what they worked on; we look at who they work for; and we look at how many publications they've written, how independent they seem, and then we talk to them. We don't expect students to walk in the door and do anything right away, and part of it is that students in graduate schools these days focus on what we would call unit processes. Unit processes tend to be a material, or a process step, or something unique, whether it's a new material or whatever. They tend to focus very deeply on that. What we do at IBM seems to be much more along the line of integration, which is it takes 80 steps to build something. One of these steps was your PhD thesis on that material. The other 79 steps I got to do, and figure out how to mix this all together and make it work. And the students coming in don't really understand that. It's all computerized. Many of those steps are just commodity steps, sputter down the seed layer or something like that, and it takes a while to understand all that and to learn the system. Probably the bigger thing is to convince the student that they will now be evaluated on the whole project, not on a unit process, and I don't know how to prepare a student for that from the outside because they don't do that in graduate schools, particularly. 

HOLLOWAY: Well, you're in between a rock and a hard place, in my opinion, in terms of graduate schools. Because you want to take that student and convince them they can be an expert in a particular area or subject, and so that requires focus and attention to that specific detail. But you're right, we don't do a very good job in making them multitask.

ROSSNAGEL: And they have to multitask in an industry where you're not doing everything yourself, and so you're relying on other people, and so there you have to wait in line, or tools aren't ready, or some other issue comes up. So you eventually have five projects in parallel rather than just one. 

HOLLOWAY: Right. One way I try to give them a flavor for that in my group is to make them know what the other students in the group are doing, and the breadth of the projects in the group are not insignificant I would say.

ROSSNAGEL: Well, I think it's a challenge. And the students, when they're doing their PhD, are very focused on getting the PhD and getting done, and it's hard to distract them into too many other things, and yet it's really good for them if they are distracted into other things. We try and hire graduate students in the summer. We used to have undergraduates in the summer, and that turned out just to be technician work. We want graduate students, and what we find is professors are very reluctant to give up their best graduate student.

HOLLOWAY: And especially during the summer.

ROSSNAGEL: Here's my deal. I'll hire your graduate student. I'll pay them $1500 a week. But I don't want your second best graduate student; I want your best one. And the problem is you as a professor would say, "I need him. He runs my lab." And yet, if you would give me him for the summer, and I would show him the world of sort of industrial research and so on, he would go back knowing so much more than he would just having worked in your lab for the summer, and then he would transfer that to others. And so the professors that we have done that with are converted, but it's a very hard first step, because their tendency is to send you a young student who needs to be trained, and that's not what I want.

HOLLOWAY: I understand exactly what you're saying, and I endorse your conclusion on that. My argument is that even if they go off for a summer and do something completely different from what their research and dissertation is, they come back much more enthused, much more focused, and much more mature, and that's ideal for us as well. It winds up making them function much better at the university.

ROSSNAGEL: Oh yeah. I had a student last summer from Jene Golovchenko's group at Harvard, and I had this job opening come up in about February. I knew this student. I contacted him and said, "Would you like to come for the summer?" You know, "I'll pay you this." And it turns out he was local anyway. And he said, "Sure." And then his advisor called me about a month later and said, "I wanted him," and I said, "Well, I already signed him up." And we had this long discussion, and he spent the summer with us, and I think the advisor is overjoyed that now he comes back with a whole different sort of set of experiences and access and equipment. Anyway, it's some of the things you pick up over time in terms of what you're looking for in other people. In our case, we're looking for curiosity and confidence and, you know, reasonable training. But again, they're not going to be trained in doing exactly what we want to do anyway. So the other side of that makes it work so much better.

HOLLOWAY: Now, you knew about this student from Golovchenko's group by networking, if that's a good term to describe that, so you obviously believe that networking is critical for functioning in professional roles.

ROSSNAGEL: Well, I think that's one of the roles the AVS plays; which is you come to these meetings and you go to some talks, but you also talk with other people in the hallways and you find out. For example, Jane Chang has a good student that has some work on ALD of ferroelectrics or something like that. But he has the background I need for this other project, and he probably wouldn't have applied for the job because he wouldn't even know about it, but I can go through the advisor and say, "I need this student. When can you get rid of him?" You know, wrap him up, and I can kind of tailor something for the student, coordinate it. But if I hadn't come and sat through the talk, or if I didn't know Jane Chang, it wouldn't work. It would just be another resume on the computer, and it wouldn't connect. So there's a networking component to AVS, there's an interpersonal component, and then there's sort of a curiosity component where you can walk into other sessions and just see what's going on and see if it strikes you. The analogy to that is actually in JVST10 when we made it all electronic. It changed how I read the journal. I used to get, you know, your paper copy of JVST every month, and I would often page through it backwards, start from the back and page through. I was looking for a figure, or a word, or something like that that just catches your eye. And it was often in some article that I would have never looked at, and a sort of serendipitous, not very efficient search process. Once the electronic version came out, everyone did two searches. They searched on their own name to see who was referencing them, and they searched on very specific topics that they worked in. And you found the very specific things, but you didn't find these extra things. 

HOLLOWAY: Right. How do you solve that? That's still an issue for the graduate students in the university particularly. We used to go and look at citation indexes and go through a search, and you would find one article that you were looking for, but you would find three articles that were related to what you were interested in.

ROSSNAGEL: Yeah, I don't know how you overcome that now. The problem is now you'll get 30 articles instead of three, and you have to sort of filter them all. I don't know. Graduate students have a different world now than we had. They're not going to the copy machine anymore, you know; they're downloading PDFs. I can't even read a PDF on the screen, so I'm not in that world yet. You know, graduate students evolve. We didn't have Internet, we didn't have cell phones, we didn't have laptops, and yet the students coming up today have all these things, so much so that they take it all for granted. They have such incredible access to everything that's out there.

HOLLOWAY: But they search on keywords, and sometimes they don't identify all the important keywords.

ROSSNAGEL: I think learning how to search is an important strategy, and I don't know how you teach that. 

HOLLOWAY: I don't know how you teach that either, because I don't know how to do it. 

ROSSNAGEL: Well, I'm surprised... My daughter's in law school, and there are times when we have some topic, and I can search on it and find it in 30 seconds. She searches for hours and can't find the same things, and all I can figure is, you know, she's putting the wrong terms in the search engine or somehow not prioritizing them correctly. I think it's skills that you pick up with trial and error. Anyway, that's sort of an AVS career.

HOLLOWAY: That's a lot of topics. Anything else you wanted to cover?

ROSSNAGEL: Not really, that I know of. Maybe I'll think of something, but I've been very... I think the AVS has been a good place for me professionally. I've met a lot of people. Most everyone I know in the field has some connection to AVS. I think it's evolved over the years. It's not quite as vital as it used to be just because I think there are many other choices.

HOLLOWAY: Yeah, there are a lot of choices now.

ROSSNAGEL: Yes, I worry that we're just slowly slipping, and we don't know how to overcome that. I don't know whether that's because we haven't stepped up to the new things, or whether that's just life.

HOLLOWAY: Well, there's going to be ups and downs. That's for sure.

ROSSNAGEL: Yeah.

HOLLOWAY: You'd like to make sure there's some ups to compensate for the downs. Okay, thanks Steve for an excellent interview. 

Notes
1. The Fusion Technology Division was formed in 1980. It became the Plasma Science & Technology Division in 1986.
2. Stephen Rossnagel was Chair of the Plasma Science and Technology Division for 1990.
3. Stephen Rossnagel was awarded the 1990 Peter Mark Memorial Award
"For contributions to understanding and applications of magnetron and ion beam sputtering."
4. American Institute of Physics.
5. Stephen Rossnagel was Chair of the Publications Committee from 1991 to 1994.
6. Chair of the Publications Committee.
7. Pat Thiel was the Program Committee Chair for the 1995 Symposium, which was held in Minneapolis.
8. Stephen Rossnagel was Chair of the Marketing Committee 2004-6
9. Stephen Rossnagel became Treasurer in 2007.
10. Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology

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