Synthetic Chemist to Semiconductor Engineer

1280px-Intel_old_logoI never thought I’d finish grad school. At least that’s what I thought as my last year at UC Davis dragged on. My peers around me were acquiring impressive post-docs around the world and I tried to be interested in what everyone else was interested in. However, I had decided long before my last year in grad school that my time in academia would be limited to my Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry. Instead, I wanted to work for companies like Google, Apple, SpaceX, NASA and other high-tech cutting edge companies. With my synthetic Organic Chemistry background, I didn’t see a clear transition between what I had chosen to study and what excited me out in the real world. This was true until the world’s largest silicon giant came to recruit at UC Davis.

In the fall of 2014, a recruiter from Intel presented an information session about opportunities in the Portland Technology and Development group (PTD). This group is responsible for developing the new processes so as to double the transistors on a chip every 2 years (Moore’s law). What surprised me was that Gordon Moore was a chemist who happened to found the world’s largest semiconductor company. Chemists are a significant part of the multidisciplinary team of PhD scientists and engineers in PTD that enables Moore’s law to still be applicable despite the multitude of challenges. It is hard to imagine that transistor features are now comparable to single strands of DNA. Keeping Moore’s law alive thus requires innovation and this is what motivates Intel to continue to hire a large number of PhD’s. The opportunity to work in such an environment was hard to say no to, even if it meant moving to Hillsboro, Oregon given that Intel has decided to invest 100 billion dollars into Oregon over the next 30 years.

Now, I spend my days in a new cutting-edge fabrication cleanroom learning about patterning in the Portland Technology Development group. Every day, I work with equipment worth tens of millions of dollars while teaming up with an exceptional group of Ph.D.s from all over the world. As I grow as an engineer, I can now see a clear transition between the qualities my doctoral studies have cultivated within me and the subsequent contributions I can make in the high-tech world. As one of my UC Davis professors once said, “If something interests you, then it shouldn’t be too hard. If it’s really that hard, then perhaps it doesn’t interest you.”

By Handeep Kaur

Author: Bill Miller

Bill Miller is a Councilor of the Sacramento Section of the ACS. He also teaches chemistry at Sacramento City College.

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