President and Executive Officer
ONAMI (Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute)
Corvallis, Oregon, United States
- BSEE, MSEE, Stanford University (1976), Palo Alto, CA, U.S.
Skip is the President and Executive Officer of the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute, and works to grow nanoscience and microtechnology research and commercialization in the state of Oregon.
Advice to Students:
"If you are in high-school, get involved in one of the many research or science activities available on college campuses or at (if you are lucky to be near one) major science museums in the summer. Just one practical exposure to a real-live research effort can make a huge difference to your outlook, focus and enthusiasm. If you are in college, seek out an undergraduate research opportunity, even if it is just cleaning glassware in a chemistry lab at first. In both cases, persevere in math and science and try lots of different courses. Something will "catch" and inspire you, as microelectronics did me."
Q: When did you first find that your career path focused on nanotechnology?
Rung: Although we didn't call it that at the time, I guess my first job out of college arguably involved "nanotechnology" by at least one definition. In 1977, our group at HP Labs was among the first to develop a cutting-edge 5-micron (!) CMOS process - with a 1000A (100nm) gate oxide. This feature was "nanoscale" and the performance of the device was critically dependent on its size and other nanoscale features (i.e. SiO2 layer interface with bulk Si). For those who won't accept that, then nanoscale objects (e.g. in inks) and features associated with inkjet devices, beginning c. 1995 would be the next thing.
Q: What current nanotechnology applications are you working on?
Rung: As a research collaborative involving several universities and a national laboratory, our researchers are working on many different things involving specialized nanoparticles (with 3 "nano" dimensions), nanowires (with 2), nanostructured films (1) and nanostructured solids ("0", e.g. precisely specified and very complex superlattices). The applications include water purification, printed and transparent electronics, nanotransducers and power sources for wireless sensors, biofuels synthesis and greener production methods for nanomaterials and other specialty chemicals.
Q: What's the most rewarding thing about working with nanotechnology?
Rung: The "best" thing is and always was getting to work on extraordinary things with extraordinary colleagues, who become your friends for life. Specific to nanotechnology, it is the ability to use cutting-edge scientific discovery to address society's greatest needs (e.g. energy) and at the same time create great opportunities for people and communities who understandably would like to continue to enjoy the prosperity and quality of life Americans have become accustomed to.
Q: Is there an example you can provide that shows how something you've worked on has positively impacted the world?
Rung: ONAMI projects are either still in the research phase or early stages of commercialization, so there has been no time yet for world impact – though without a doubt many of our current efforts have this potential. These things frankly take a long time. However, I was very fortunate to be part of the HP R&D effort that revolutionized the computer printing (and then photographic printing) industry – including lots of nanoscale science and nanomaterials work. The basic inventions occurred in 1979 and 1980, but it took another 10-15 years before this was a global scale business that truly changed the world.
Q: What do you think is the single greatest impact nanotechnology has had on the world thus far?
Rung: Without a doubt, it has been in information technology, particular semiconductors and mass storage (both magnetic and optical). These are still, perhaps, the most impactful (think: enablement of the internet, ubiquitous access to it, cell phones, etc.) technologies we are likely to see in our lifetimes. But there is a very good possibility that nanotechnology-enabled advances in energy, environment and medicine will have comparable impact in the medium- to long-term future.
Q: Please give an example of what you envision nanotechnology applications leading to in the future.
Rung: Here are two: Affordable drinking water purification, which is arguably the single biggest human health problem in the world today. Another is very low cost but high efficiency and reliability solar cells for the ultimate in renewable and non-polluting energy.
Q: Do you find yourself working more in a team situation, or more alone?
Rung: Almost always in a team situation. This is quite typical of any significant research effort and virtually all product development efforts, whether in large industrial organizations or startup companies.
Q: If you work more as a team, what are some of the other areas of expertise of your team members?
Rung: Perhaps the best example to give here is the range of expertise represented on an inkjet print cartridge development team: mechanical design, integrated circuit (analog/digital/power) design, thin film/semiconductor process development, computational fluid dynamics (supercomputing), organic synthesis, formulation chemistry and electronic hardware/software development (for test equipment). Nanotechnology product and application development is similar, and the interaction of many different disciplines is one of the things that makes it fun. No one has all the answers and knowledge, and everyone is learning new things every day.
Q: Did your university training help you in your nanotechnology work?
Rung: Absolutely. If you want to do path-breaking nanotechnology development first hand, there is no substitute for a fundamental background in the relevant science and mathematics. Equally important for me was involvement, as both an upper division undergraduate and as a graduate student, in research projects outside of classroom work. If anything, these opportunities for motivated students have improved since I was in college.
Q: Do you have a mentor? Did you in your college years?
Rung: I had many, including a favorite high-school math teacher, the more senior graduate students who showed me how to do things, and many of the immediate supervisors I had at HP.
Q: If you had to do it all over again, would you still focus on nanotechnology applications?
Rung: Yes. If anything, I have a greater enthusiasm and appreciation for science now than I had then (when I was more theoretically and less application-oriented). Someone wise once said "youth is wasted on the young". There is plenty of truth in that statement for me. If I had it to do over again, I would have sought to become involved in research much sooner. As it was, I had to be invited to do so by one of my professors, simply because I received a high score on his exam!
Q: If a high school or college student was interested in nanotechnology, what advice would you give them to help prepare take on those roles?
Rung: If you are in high-school, get involved in one of the many research or science activities available on college campuses or at (if you are lucky to be near one) major science museums in the summer. Just one practical exposure to a real-live research effort can make a huge difference to your outlook, focus and enthusiasm. If you are in college, seek out an undergraduate research opportunity, even if it is just cleaning glassware in a chemistry lab at first. In both cases, persevere in math and science and try lots of different courses. Something will "catch" and inspire you, as microelectronics did me.
Q: What other advice do you have for pre-university students?
Rung: It takes all kinds to make a world, but if you have the ability and the interest to be an innovator in science and technology, you will have the opportunity to make a big difference and change the world at least as much as (and probably much more than) someone who pursues an overtly "philanthropic" or "social" career, but without the technical skill or discipline you will acquire as a scientist or an engineer. A truly well-educated person will be competent in both the sciences and the humanities, as well-illustrated by many of the remarkable founders of this country, including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.