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.