11 JUN 2021
Leveraging his broad and long-standing expertise in materials development, Ralph Dammel is dedicated to transferring proven technologies to new science and application field. Ralph tells us about the potentials of his current projects and the exciting areas he hopes to explore next.
How did you come to work in such a varied role?
In my nearly 35 years in the field of advanced materials, I had the privilege to learn about so many different technologies. It's fascinating working at the interface of the various disciplines and specialties — the chemistry of patterning materials, the physics of patterning tools and engineering in the semiconductor space. These areas overlap and you need to have some expertise in all of them.
What challenges do you face and how are you overcoming them?
It's different for every project. The common thread is finding the right people to work on them. This is particularly difficult early on, when you're in the amorphous, chaotic part of innovation and you don't really know where it's going. But you want to try things out, which involves making new compounds and conducting experiments.
Even if you have something that looks good, you might have to stop something else to start something new, and it's always difficult deciding which ideas to take forward. But working in a large organization definitely opens up more possibilities. When the company decides to do something, we have a lot of resources to put into it.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Looking at new technologies, new fields, and linking them to existing needs or technologies is a lot of fun. I wrote my own job description, so I give myself a lot of freedom.
I try to spend as much time as possible thinking, coming up with ideas and reading scientific literature. That's a big part of what I do — keeping up with things in my field to remain an expert. I have very broad interests, and I'm always open to new information. I find a new field; I see the cross-connections and maybe an application. I get excited, and then I try to find someone who'd be interested in doing it.
What exciting science would you like to get more involved in?
There are many things happening in science right now with a potential impact on the areas I am working in. Take, for example, the development of 2D materials. It all started with graphene. Many are aware of its conductivity and its tensile strength, but it has other, amazing physical properties that can only be explained by complex physics. Whilst Graphene is actually hard to work with there are a host of other similar promising 2D materials on semiconductor manufacturers’ radar screen. To this end, material scientists need to understand quantum electrodynamics to develop and apply these new materials.
What are your greatest achievements to date?
The greatest achievement in my career so far is kicking off the directed self-assembly program. Even though I was a bit over-optimistic about how quickly it would come to fruition, many people are now working on it. If you start a revolutionary new field, it doesn't take three years, it takes ten and comes with risks. But this a big project with lots of potential.
How do you hope to make an impact?
I'm currently looking at materials specifically for augmented-reality (AR) applications, which is a field with tremendous opportunities. If we could advance the performance of AR headsets, it would be a game changer. With a high-performance headset, you wouldn’t need a phone anymore. You wouldn’t even need a TV! One of the challenges here is balancing functional performance and user-friendliness
Another is leveraging our patterning work to develop pillar arrays for sorting biological molecules in novel ways. This would outperform conventional l filter membrane technology. If successful, it would allow for liquid biopsies giving us detailed information on all the organs of the body simultaneously, simply by analyzing a blood or urine sample. That would definitely have a profound impact on the medical field, and society as a whole.
Learn more about Semiconductors
- Future Talk Podcast: Semiconductors: A Quiet Revolution