Nanotechnology-tool maker FEI Co. (Hillsboro, Ore.) broke the angstrom barrier this year, announcing imaging features as small as half an angstrom (1/20 of a nanometer). It did so under the leadership of chairman, president and CEO Vahé Sarkissian, a chip industry veteran and cofounder of AMD's processor business, who took on day-to-day oversight when he joined FEI in 1998. Sarkissian shared his opinions on what it will take for nanotechnology pioneers in semiconductors, materials and the life sciences FEI's customers to travel the learning curve in the uncharted territory he calls the "nanozone."
EE Times: You are an EE, like most of our readers, and you helped found Advanced Micro Devices' memory and microprocessor businesses. Most of the companies you have been a part of have done chip-related work, from wafer lithography to electron-beam metrology. How did you go from there to building nanotechnology tools?
Vahé Sarkissian: I actually started in physics. A professor at MIT pointed me in the right direction; I took a physics course from him one semester, and it was almost all about semiconductors. After that I switched my major to EE.
What drove semiconductors originally was physics, but the convergence with chemistry and now mechanical engineering, with MEMS [microelectromechanical systems], is even more multidisciplinary. And the nanozone is where it's all converging. I joined FEI because it provides tools for pioneers in that area.
EET: FEI has three nano divisions: NanoResearch, NanoElectronics and NanoBiology. How did your world get divided up that way?