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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Gary T. Boyd by Will Thomas on 2008 December 2,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Gary Boyd is a physicist who has worked primarily in nonlinear optics and for 3M at its main campus in St. Paul, Minnesota. This interview was done as part of the American Institute of Physics History of Physicists in Industry project, and is a follow-up interview to one conducted in December 2003 by Tom Lassman. Boyd discusses his family and education, including graduate work in nonlinear optics under Yuen-Ron Shen at the University of California at Berkeley, but also summer work in experimental work in atmospheric physics. He discusses his decision to pursue a career in industry, and his inital hiring by the 3M Corporate Research Laboratory in the 1980s. He discusses different research project, the nature of industrial research and development, the professional transition to management, and some history of research and development at 3M.
We last spoke with you in December 2003, in an interview by Tom Lassman. I guess this time what we’re going to be doing is more of a life history interview, so it will be looking at your own entree into industrial research, and your experience since then. So if we could really start from the beginning, maybe a little family background, how you got into science, where you went to college, that sort of thing.
My earliest recollections of an interest in science go back honestly as far as I can remember. I always had some keen interest in why things were working the way they were. My first love was actually chemistry, and I had quite a home laboratory, which evolved over the years until by high school it took up pretty much an entire room. But like many careers in chemistry, it ended because it took a turn towards pyrotechnics that eventually ended the whole endeavor with the extraction of certain equipment by the local fire department. So the kinds of things that that experience taught me were the joy of analysis, I think more than anything. I had friends who would spend our days, believe it or not, trading substances, and then we would have to try and do elemental or some type of analysis on it to try to figure out what it was, so we were doing early analytical chemistry just on our own as a way to solve a mystery. That was a way to apply some of the chemical principles that we were learning, either at the time or we had picked up on our own.
Was it deeply quantitative analysis?
It wasn’t deeply quantitative. We were good to go if we got a precipitate that indicated it had iron in it or something like that. So it was fun to solve mysteries, and we would throw each other curve balls, that sort of thing.
When was this, about?
This was in high school, towards the latter years of high school. [1970s?] I graduated in 1973 from high school, so prior to that. Other things that were fascinating were organic chemistry, making a number of substances, synthetic rubbers and things like that that I thought were just phenomenal. Those were the days when you could quite easily, with a parental signature, order a wide range of substances just through the mail, and they would arrive UPS.
Who did you get them from?
Various chemical houses. Things like Van Waters and Rogers for equipment, and there were small science companies that specialized in providing quantities for experimentation. Once I used to be able to go into hobby stores and get all kinds of chemicals and glassware and things like that. That’s long since gone. But just chemical supply houses. They really didn’t have any restrictions back then.
It was mostly catalog, or mostly stores?
It was all catalog. It was some stores for common chemicals. Hardware stores were terrific if you know where to look for some really interesting chemicals that you can get. So there was a strong chemistry interest there. I was delighted when I could finally transition into a high school environment that actually focused on chemistry, and it had a teacher just for that subject as opposed to a general science. So I was ahead of that curve. At the same time the math interest was very strong. Anything analytical, anything having to do with understanding the world was of interest to me at the time.
Do you have a scientific family at all?
Not at all. I don’t honestly know where the original inspiration came from. It was just always a passion, whether it was looking at insects under the magnifying glass — not catching them on fire, but looking at them — or understanding what was going on in the universe, having telescopes and such were all passions. The gifts that I got for Christmas and that sort of thing were all oriented towards that, because that’s what I wanted.
Where did you go to high school?
In a town just south of San Francisco called Daly City. So that’s pretty much my environment. Places that enthralled me at the time were the Lawrence Hall of Science, which is in Berkeley, California. I honestly don’t know if it’s still operating, but in that sense, Berkeley was kind of a scientific playground, if you will. I think I learned my first computer language back in the day, and I’m clearly dating myself. We had a teletype hookup from the Lawrence Hall of Science, and I think we used BASIC at the time. Those were the days when you stored your programs on punched tape. That was also a fascinating area of learning how to program computers and getting it to do things, calculations or just solving logic problems that was really fun. I also took a series of classes at a local junior college during my senior year in chemistry and in calculus.
What was the junior college?
Skyline Junior College, which again, is in this Daly City area. It was through that that I picked up more of an understanding of basic chemistry, organic chemistry, and calculus — all good foundations for later going on to Berkeley. There was a science club that I was head of in the high school, things like that. And I had fun, actually creating demonstrations of various principals and trying to show that off to students that were interested at the time.
So you were pretty much the coolest kid in school.
Yeah, as you know — not. But I had my niche, and I was comfortable there. My hero, people I looked up to, were those who would later go on to MIT, had a specific interest in physics, things of that nature. So I switched from chemistry to physics about the time that an explosion sort of ended my chemistry career at home. I realized later that that was my deeper passion, was more of an understanding as opposed to what was becoming more recipe oriented. So I found especially in organic chemistry, it’s a fascinating field, but I grew tired of memorizing syntheses and decided it was more fun to understand why things were the way they were. And it was more math, more computer involved in physics anyway, and that was also a passion. So that was the high school era. From there, I applied at a number of schools. Got into UC Berkeley in their physics department, and also decided to minor in applied mathematics. Actually it was a double major, I suppose. That kept my hand in computer science, which I had considered as a career option because that held such fascination for me and so many others at the time. But [at Berkeley] there was an assignment that we had where we had to create just this massive computer program; it was just a huge project. The story goes that I finally finished this project and I exited the computer building, and it was probably four in the morning and the sun was rising, and I realized I hadn’t noticed any time passing. So I felt at that time that computer science for me would be a little bit too obsessive and not as people oriented as I would like. So I decided that wasn’t my field, and I stuck with physics and kept the math major as well. I had a great time. Undergraduate time was wonderful.
Any particular classes stick out, or did you work in labs or anything as an undergrad?
I had a unique situation as an undergraduate at Berkeley. I had grown tired of the study methodology that everyone seemed to be into where you would go to the library and escape the dormitories and that sort of thing, and in noticed in LeConte Hall at Berkeley that there was an unused room filled with equipment, and it turned out it was basically a storage area for the undergraduate demonstration labs. So Berkeley was large enough that it actually had a staff that worked exclusively on setting up demonstrations for the physics classes. It also had its own machine shop just for students to use. Just a marvelous place in so many ways. But I asked what the storage room was used for, if anyone would mind if I cleaned it up and set up what I ended up called the Undergraduate Physics Lab, a place where people could tinker on their own experiments independent of assignments from the classroom. So we had this UPL that we set up, and after a couple of months the place was actually fairly decent. It was loaded with old electronics equipment, and it became a working electronics lab. We didn’t do too much other physics at the time. So that became a real passion, and a number of people were equally enamored by this little facility that we had, which was open all the time. We even had a budget that was funded from the coke and candy machines that were in the building, and with that I was able to purchase electronic equipment from the electronics lab in the basement in Birge Hall. So that was kind of fun. I met a lot of good friends there.
Was there anyone sort of overseeing this?
No, I was given complete freedom at the time. No one saw any harm in what I was doing. Actually it would be interesting to find out what people really thought. But I guess I was harmless enough and didn’t cause any trouble.
No explosions this time?
No, no, we avoided that as much as possible. This was also the era of the microcomputer revolution. The first microcomputers were coming out in kit form, and this was a place to try to put some of these together. I hooked up with a number of engineering students, and we had a fairly substantial and just marvelous time designing microcomputers.
So this was kind of like — you hear of the early years of Bill Gates, sort of the same with microcomputers.
Right. At the same time, we were attending a computer club that was going on at Stanford near the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. I think it was something like the Stanford Computer Club, something of that nature. But this was a hotbed of some of the local Silicon Valley creators. Steve Wozniak I think was in attendance there, and later went on to be quite famous in this area. We would trade equipment, we would trade integrated circuits, design concepts, all built around these up-and-coming microcomputers, the 4040, the 8080, the 8008 type chips from Intel. All of these were the beginning of the microcomputer era. My personal goal was to build a portable microcomputer in an attaché case, and was all hand wired. The thing actually worked. We programmed it by switches, and later moved up to keyboards, and the screen was an oscilloscope. So it was a time for me, by practice, to learn electronics, to learn a lot more about microcomputers and programming. A secondary goal that I had at the time was to build a speech synthesizer. I don't know why, honestly. I think the whole concept was just fascinating, to have something that would talk to you. It was based on a digital/analogue approach to the human vocal tract, and the idea was to model that and to create some of the basic phonemes. So I was taking courses in linguistics. Nothing in electronics; I was picking up that all by osmosis from my engineering friends, and by doing.
Did you do any engineering courses, or did you just hang out with the engineers?
No, I was plenty busy with physics and the math major as well, so that kept me just thoroughly occupied. That was a fairly unique experience. I had a few other friends on mine under the wing of that Undergraduate Physics Lab that we had, and the friendships persist to these days. Many of those guys went on to be topnotch electrical engineers in large companies.
Can you offer a few names?
Sure. Max Hauser was one fellow. In fact I think for a while he was a professor at Cornell. John Fattaruso, who is still at Texas Instruments, one of their top design engineers. So it was a good time. What characterized it for me more than anything was that it was a time that I was able to make, simply because no one said I couldn’t. So I think making moves like that was always fun. No one said I couldn’t build a laboratory in my home and then do whatever I felt like. So I think that sort of characterized my career, actually. So that was a lot of the undergraduate era. I’d say the professors that were inspiring were ones that I spent summers with. As a freshman, I decided that I wanted some very strong laboratory experience. I detested just learning things from the book. I wanted to see what physics was really going to be like. So I think it was the first week of freshman classes I approached the first physics professor I found in the class I was taking, and asked if I could participate in summer research with him. He immediately said yes, and honestly I didn’t even think about what the subject was going to be when I asked him, and he told me that he was doing cosmic ray analysis using balloon-borne detectors. These were the days when that was a way to — it was a fairly hot field at the time. Maybe it’s died out now; I really don’t know. I haven’t kept up with it. But this was when people studied cosmic rays, and tried to correlate things the aurora phenomena with cosmic ray flux, and probably a lot of other things that I didn’t bother to ask about at the time. So I still remain ignorant of what we were doing. But that summer, it involved going into Northwest Territories at fairly high latitude. I think we were within 100 miles of the arctic circle. We flew these massive helium balloons, and my job was to work on the payloads of these things, and make sure all the electronics worked. Again, electronics experience was useful. That enabled me to get this kind of job, or at least do a decent job at it. So we were up there for a couple of weeks. I think it was two or three weeks, I can’t quite remember. It was a wonderful experience. We sent these things up, and we had telemetry coming down from them. The data was all taken on chart recorders; there were no computers at the time. There was a timer inside the payload that had to fire a ballast release, which would drop the payload and a parachute would deploy and that sort of thing, and that was required by law because these things couldn’t just drift endlessly all over the place, and the balloon had to eventually come down. But the timer in it was a motor and what amounted to a phonograph device in there, where two wires were connected as the wheel finally made its last revolution, and then set this whole explosive off and fired the payload drop. So that in itself was really fascinating to me, and just being up that far north, watching the aurora every night.
How big of a group was up there?
Oh, I would say there were five of us. We just had a grand time the whole time. Memory is fading, but I should mention just for the sake of completeness something I did skip. When I got out of high school, I don’t remember how I got the job, to be honest; it might have been through a high school counselor who knew my passion for science. I got a job working at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. I was essentially a technician there, once again doing electronics. I think we were making amplifiers for a proportional wire counter. There was a Professor Shapiro (or Dr. Shapiro; I don't know if he was actually a teacher at the time), he and a graduate student, probably a post-doc, and I worked on these detection systems. Also there were photomultiplier tube detector systems. I think a lot of technician work down there is all about detection systems. They were building these detectors. I had to learn some basic electronics. Dr. Shapiro was particularly good at giving me a challenge and just saying, “Just go do it. Figure it out. Start from scratch.” And I just loved that. I had to make a certain amplifier, so I would learn about push-pull amplifiers, and I would just go build them and test them, and when they seemed to work I would start to mass produce them by hand, one at a time. Gilcrest was the last name of the post-doc that was there; I have no idea what’s happened to him. I also remember stress testing bolts that were used in a superconducting magnet. I guess when they fire these things up there are quite a few stresses that occur just from the magnetic flux. So I have a distinct memory of ripping one-inch diameter bolts apart in what was sort of an Instron machine, and taking readings on the stresses inside the thing. That was fun. I learned to drive a jeep there. One of the professional technicians there showed me how to drive a stick shift at the time, which I hadn’t learned before, and I learned to drive going up and down the accelerator length, so that was a pretty unique driving range. Just loved that experience. I would commute every day from home, and go down there and pick up some new bit of knowledge. Not so much about elementary particle physics, which of course is what it was all about, but just about how to make the instrumentation, how a massive experiment, like those typically are, actually works.
Yes, it’s nice that you can get that opportunity, because in the 1970s particle detectors had become very sophisticated already, so to just kind of pop out of high school and have a hand in that I suppose surprises me a little bit.
Well, it was a terrific opportunity. I had gotten a number of scholarships. I was a Hertz Scholar to go to Berkeley as an undergraduate. But I think the classes I took at the junior college and chemistry and calculus opened up some opportunities for me. And I had a lot of teachers in the high school I think that were looking out for me in that regard. It’s not often, unfortunately, when a student is passionate about some subjects, and I think they loved that, and provided some opportunities for me. It would be interesting for me to go back somehow and figure out how I got that job. It’s gone from my memory. But that was a huge experience, and a nice thing to put on the resume at that age. It beat dishing ice cream.
That’s what my little sister did for that summer.
Is that right? That’s what my daughter did for a while, too.
She’s at the U [of Minnesota] now. She just started as a freshman. She’s a lot younger than me.
Hmm. Oh boy. So that experience I think helped also win over Prof. Robert Brown, who was the professor I worked with at Berkeley on this first job to the Northwest Territories. I think his field was on its tail end. He was an older professor, retired not too long after that, perhaps a few years after that. But that’s a matter of history, and I really don’t remember. The Physics Department really became kind of a home for me. I practically lived there with that Undergraduate Physics Lab. The following summer I worked with Prof. Forrest Mozer, and he was fascinating on a couple of levels. I later got a summer job with him, and once again we were flying balloons, this time to measure electric fields. The payload consisted of four metal plates on the ends of two long poles that were crossed, so essentially that provided electrodes with which to measure literally electric fields in the upper altitudes. So that much I understood. I also understood, again, I was building payloads. And again, it was telemetry that was used to get the signal back.
Did you ever consider going into atmospheric physics?
What I found that they were doing more than anything was what I call correlation science, where something happened here, was it coincident with this aurora phenomenon here? And through these correlations, in the few journal articles that I read, you could begin to understand what was going on in some of the upper atmospheres. But it seemed a little too phenomenological for me. It was a little like studying the ocean. Sure it’s fascinating, and biology is an interesting area. But there wasn’t anything fundamental about it. It was kind of like another species up there. So I learned a lot about the Northern Lights, and the fact that the electric and magnetic field around the Earth is immensely complex, especially with the solar wind playing with it all the time. But it just seemed like one massive, single problem that if you were interested in to start with it would keep your interest, but I didn’t have that initial fascination. That balloon experiment was in Greenland at a place called Sondre Stromfjord, or something like that. We flew there on an Air Force C130. I remember it distinctly because besides out little team in this massive plane, there were a bunch of USO girls that were on their way to some military base, and they entertained us on the flight. So that was fascinating. But again, it’s the desire to get up to the high latitudes where you’re near the poles, and where things get interesting as the flux concentrates. So again, it was an adventure. I do remember going fossil hunting in some of the ravines in Greenland. I still have the fossils today. You could literally go down in a ravine in a small creek bed and pull fossils out of the ground. They were probably millions of years old. They were fish fossils. I must have collected a dozen of these things. And seeing the polar ice cap, which may be slowing disappearing these days, was fascinating for me, and for anyone.
That’s my other project, the ice sheets on, mostly Antarctica, but Greenland to an extent as well.
Have you been to see them?
I have not been to see. It would be fun.
It was a great experience. Working with Mozer was interesting. Forrest Mozer was also the inventor of a speech synthesizer, I think what ended up becoming Speak and Spell.
I had one of those.
He was also interested in this speech synthesis work that I was doing as an electronics project, but he gave me this inspiration and methodology that all the exploration I was trying to do on a circuit board he said could be done on a computer, and almost all of the design work that he had done had been done on a computer. He also taught me that if you want to stay independent from the institution you’re in, you have to spend some money and develop your own home work space. So apparently I don’t think he ever had to license this to the University of California. I don't know if he’d made a small fortune, if it was just a fascination on his part, but clearly he had this as a hobby of his. My engineering friends and I were all fascinated as to how we might figure out how he had done it. To this day I don't know what his algorithm was, but clearly it was very effective and very efficient. That was another fun thing that was going on. The environment at Berkeley is one where you’re surrounded by just about every type of physics there is. There are Nobel laureates wandering the hallways. There are grand stories about all sorts of things going on. I do remember looking at some of the old storage areas at the way they used to do physics with old wood and brass, just exquisite craftsmanship in some of the apparatus that people used at the time. I was in an era where you pounded it out of aluminum. We didn’t use duct tape so much in those days, but the equivalent, and things just sort of hung together. I did also some undergraduate research work on the third summer with Prof. Richards. He was flying balloons — again, it seems to be a theme here; I guess I went from one professor to the next — and they were doing the [cosmic] microwave background [radiation] work. This is before the very detailed surveys that we have today by satellites. This is when you had to send up these detectors, they were bolometers, to measure I guess in this case some of the deeper infrared radiation coming off of whatever their cosmic background is. My work at the time, as I recall, had to do with another fascination of Prof. Richards’, and that was to study the spectroscopy of various gases. My only recollection is it was to try to do Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, and learning about that instrumentation, and I do remember building a chamber that would house the absolute smallest amount of carbon monoxide for the purpose of getting this kind of infrared spectroscopy done. And Richards was particularly good at coaching me in writing a scientific paper, which he insisted I do, and that he critiqued very well. He also taught me the use of what I would call units analysis, or just back-of-the-envelope proportionality analysis, and doing simple experiments to find out which way things should go. You know, should you use a small volume, should you use a large volume, that sort of thing, for detection limits. We were also interested at the time in a fascinating new area called photoacoustics spectroscopy where infrared radiation would come in, or optical radiation, visible, would excite the substance of interest. That would heat up. The heat would generate sound waves inside the chamber, and a microphone was your detector. Now that it’s coming back to me, we built a number of photoacoustic apparatus in order to elicit all kinds of phenomena in gases. The chambers were resonant, so this was a way to get extra sensitivity. So I would learn about just basic resonances in chambers, that sort of thing. It was a hot field for a long time, and there were commercial photoacoustic apparatuses that were being built from that basic research. I don't know what that field is like now, if it is still an interesting area. But at the time it was new, it was exciting, I understood it, I was participating — it was just thrilling in that regard. I think from all of these summer experiences I learned what physics was like. I was working with guys who actually were doing it as opposed to the book learning. So it was a fairly unique education, and I would say one of kind of my own doing. I didn’t like just working with the books over and over. I think the final year I had another summer experience working with Nabil Amer. Nabil Amer was a professor at Berkeley, and right now I can’t remember what the research was about. I do remember that it was time, then, of course to apply to graduate school, and I was accepted into Princeton’s Applied Physics program. I also was accepted into Berkeley. As I understand it, I heard this later on, there was a bit of a controversy at accepting me into graduate school at Berkeley because I had been an undergraduate there.
That’s one of those institutions where they prefer not to do that?
Right. Apparently the experience that I had with all of these summer jobs, learning experimental techniques, I was good in the lab, basically is what it amounted to.
And you expected to be an experimental physicist at this point. [Yes.] Did you have any notion about industry versus academic work in the undergraduate time?
At that time, I hadn’t had any experience, any contact with industrial. Just my family, if you will, were the professors and their environment. I had a good feel for the intensity of their job, and if anything, that was a bit daunting. Plus, frankly, these guys were all superstars. They were the absolute cream, and I knew that I really wasn’t, just being honest, going to be in their league. I loved the work that I did, but I was not an A+ student, I was more what I would call an A- student. I think there was an anxiousness that prevented me from getting deep enough into things. And I had to work extremely hard and very long hours in order to do well on the tests and to keep up. I had some amount of intuition, which was always useful; it served me well. But by and large, it was just the fascination and the sheer sweat of the brow I think that kept me afloat as an undergraduate.
Kind of hanging around the department as much as you did, did you get a real good sense of who the various people were and what they did, their importance?
Oh yeah. You got to know the habits of Owen Chamberlain, of certainly the professors that I worked with. I had a very keen sense of the fact that these guys were human beings, and very smart human beings. But people that were just passionate about what they did. Someone that had personal issues, just like everyone else, they went to the bathroom like everyone else. I think that took them down from the pedestal for me. I still admired them. I couldn’t do what they did. But they weren’t gods. And they certainly weren’t that mysterious to me, which I think for the general public, if you’ve got a Nobel Prize, you might as well be a saint of science, you’re just inaccessible. These guys were accessible to me as human beings.
How about graduate students? Did you work much with them?
Oh yes, the summer jobs were certainly just loaded with grad students and post-docs. They would, again, share their fascination, offer me advice as to what careers to be taking. But they were all academically related. There was one professor at Berkeley, I can’t recall his name, but he was an assistant professor — you know, he was one of these guys wandering around who wasn’t quite a professor. He was teaching only. He taught a class in solid-state physics, which I was always interested in. He had come from a company, and I’ll just say RCA, or something like that, but he was the only one I had met who had industrial experience, and he left that environment frankly in disgust. I think the kind of research he wanted to do had been discouraged. He found it a constrictive environment in many ways. He sat down with a bunch of undergraduates who were hungry for career advice and basically told them to steer clear of industry. I remember it distinctly, but I was also keen on the fact that it looked like there were some sour grapes going on. So that was my only exposure to it. As an undergraduate, I think you kind of grew up in an environment where being a professor was really an only decent thing to do. You probably were challenged with that yourself at some time, especially in an area such as yours where industry isn’t readily employing that, but academia makes good sense.
I actually got a job in industry out of undergraduate for a year. I was an information coordinator at Cargill Dow out in Minnetonka.
Wow! Okay. So this really is your neck of the woods.
Yes, it really is. I came back here for a year before heading out east.
OK, well California has always been my home. This is quite a transplant, but I’ve been here now for 22 years, so this is a second home. So I really didn’t think too much about the career. Honestly my next goal was the doctorate, and it didn’t make any sense for me to try and think about what I wanted to do. It was just simply not an option whatsoever to try to enter the job market.
This is kind of a moment when the bottom sort of dropped out of the job market for physics graduates, if I’m correct, in kind of the mid- to late-‘70s.
Is that right? I honestly don’t recall.
There is a professor at MIT writing a book on the physics profession, and he calls it the post-war physics bubble where it just increases sort of exponentially up until ’73 or so, then axes off, then it rises again in the 1980s. But they really kind of overstocked the profession for a while.
Ah. Well, it wasn’t a concern of mine. I just had set this goal of a doctorate, come hell or high water. I knew what interests I had, and through being a Hertz Scholar I had the opportunity to meet people like Edward Teller at his home in Berkeley, and those who were huge in the field. I do remember spending some time with professors in their homes. They would treat undergraduates to their environment, things like that. So again, it really seemed like the ideal situation was to become a professor. At the same time, I’m also fighting the issue that I’m not going to be one of this caliber, which is a bit skewed because there’s a whole range of professors out there.
But you’re at Berkeley, so.
Yes. So you’re in one of the top ones. Anyway. I was also interested in teaching at the time. It was just a personal love of mine, and continues to this day. So I was looking forward to becoming a teaching assistant in graduate school, which I relished later. So apparently they saw fit to let me into Berkeley graduate school. There I started on a two-year path. I graduated in ’77 as an undergrad, so it was ’77 to ’79, basically going through the hell of prelims and coursework. There was no research, nothing was hands on. I kept that undergraduate physics lab as my office.
So did the club kind of get retired then?
Yes it did, in a way. I think I really just used it as a study place more than anything. Some of that time must have overlapped with some of these undergraduates who were apparently younger than I was, so I think there was still some legacy going forward with that. I hooked up with some new graduate students who were coming in, and we went through that ordeal together.
How big are these cohorts around this time, the incoming graduate student population? How many fellow graduate students would come in with you?
That's probably a matter of record. I really don't know. Dozens, or something like that. The classes perhaps at the graduate level maybe had 30ish or so. So it’s still a fairly good sized institution. That department is a reasonably large one. I just don’t know the numbers. I couldn’t tell you. So I managed to get through the prelims. True confessions, those were the days when you could take them over and over. I don’t think they practice that now. I don’t know if they have a three strike you’re out or something like that. I do remember it being one of the worst periods of academic life, just constant studying, and how do you practice to be intuitive and clever in an exam situation? So I eventually did get through. I remember Prof. [J. David] Jackson, who is famous for his E and M [Electricity and Magnetism]text these days, congratulating me on passing. But he looked at me square in the eye as he shook my hand and said something to the effect of, “You passed, barely, but congratulations.” So I left with that caveat for the rest of my life.
This is your first round, though?
That was when I was done with all the exams, both the oral and the written, and it meant that I could go on to the Ph.D. program.
But you mentioned that they allowed you to take it any number of times.
Yes, and I had not passed a number of times. So it was nothing I’m really proud of, but it did affect my career decision later. Not that industry is the place for people who didn’t make it, but that my strong suit was more in the laboratory, actually doing things with equipment and being focused on projects, as opposed to discovering another particle.
And I imagine the prelims are highly theory-based for the most part.
Yeah. This is problem solving.
They ask you a question; you’d go to the blackboard and work out a solution.
Yes, the orals were like that. The writtens were where I had the trouble. The orals apparently weren’t that difficult. I went through that the first time. But the writtens were nasty problems, just nasty things. So I don't have much more to say about that. It was just two years of academic work, and watching a number of my good friends in grad school dropout. So we were all kind of hanging on, and I managed to take hold of that last blade of grass [chuckles] and not fall off the cliff, and others did fall off.
Would you specialize at all in this period? I know you ended up in the solid-state area for your research. So would you direct your preliminary coursework towards that at all?
I think it was at that time that I had decided that — you really had two choices, and probably to this day have two choices in physics. You’re either going to do very fundamental work where your only interest in life is understanding unified field theory or elementary particle physics, or that route, where you’re digging down and deep into the mysteries. Another path you could take is the same route but from a different perspective, and that is of astrophysics. Then there was all the stuff that seemed a little more practical to me, and frankly the job market for theoretical physics or elementary physics, either as an experimentalist or a theorist, was very worrisome to me at the time. I felt that if I’m going to get employed, I need to do something that people are going to appreciate a little more. So I decided at that time for almost inspirational reasons that light was especially fascinating. I absolutely adored the E and M class as much as one can. I was reasonably good at it, so optics seemed an area that I liked. I had had so much experience in electronics that solid-state also felt like a natural area. And both of these, especially during the telecom boom at the time, seemed like readily employable fields. It turned out by the time I was looking for a job that that was a good move. In ’86 when I was looking for a job, the number of jobs in those areas was so abundant that I really didn’t have to work at all to get a job. It was trivial, frankly, compared to what people have to do now. So I hit it just right. At that point, I started to depart from a lot of my friends — they were studying gravitation; I was studying semiconductor physics, things like that. It was at that point that I realized that my generalist days were over, that there were going to be things happening in physics I just would not truly understand. To this day friends of mine ask me about string theory and black holes, and I simply say, “Well, I can point you to references and I have read a few articles, but frankly I don’t have that understanding.” I have a fascination with it, but it takes extraordinary effort to understand that.
You’re not going to be busting out the ten-dimensional topology and…
No, no, so I can only guess what people are doing in that field, and it pains me, honestly, because I still would love to understand all of it. If I had a second life, I would take that path and just finish the whole field, and who knows where that would have led. So it’s interesting, but the time I was ready to leave graduate school, there was a professor at Berkeley that tried to convince me and a colleague named Hui Hsiung, a graduate student, we were both in Ron Shen’s group, tried to convince us to go into academia to become professors, that the field needed people of our caliber and so on and so forth. Prof. Yu, Peter Yu was that professor’s name. And we were both flattered by the whole thing, but we had seen what professorship did to people. I was still looking up to them as an undergraduate. By the time I was done with graduate school, these were people, professors were friends, and struggling individuals in many ways. Their lifestyle was one of… well, if they weren’t fighting for grants, they were doing their basic research or teaching. So it was a job, I felt, that had at least two or three job descriptions associated with it, all of which were full time, and at a pay level — I’m being flat out honest now — which was approximately half of what you could find in industry. I think that's still true today. I loved the research. The teaching option was very enticing to me, and that’s probably one of my greatest regrets in a career path, not choosing something that would allow me to teach. But I think practicality, i.e. salary level, and sheer sanity was what guided my career path choice. Professorship, to do it well, is for a select few, and I just didn’t have, I thought, what it took. I wasn’t as good as my advisor in terms of what I call day-to-day brilliance. I struggled to get my projects done, and I relied on his insight. And without him, I felt that a professorship just wasn’t going to be a key option. Anyway, that's more of self-confession. The graduate work — I do remember looking around for advisors for about a week or so when I knocked on professors’ doors when I was done with my prelims and allowed to become a sentient being within the department. I remember talking to Erwin Hahn, who is one of the fathers of NMR, about working with him because I had taken some courses that allowed me to understand his work and I thought it was fascinating. To this day, I remember him looking him in the eye and saying, “Well, that’s a wonderful compliment, but I don’t have any more money. I can’t take on another student.” His work was actually winding down at the time. He was also a fascinating guy. He taught a great course on the physics of musical instruments, and he was quite a musician himself and published quite a bit in that area. Actually it was some of the hobby stuff that some of the professors did that interested me more than their research. I also talked to Leo Falicov about working with him. He was a solid-state theorist, and I very much enjoyed working with him. He was quite a character. At the end I chose, or was chosen — was allowed to work with — Prof. Yuen-Ron Shen, and his field was optics, in particular nonlinear optics. So he got to work with lasers, and boy that sounded interesting to me. It was all experimental work; there was some theory to be had here. And as a good professor will, he had dozens of topics to choose from, and he presented me with a particular topic. I say in a nutshell that whole graduate research work consisted of Ron making a proposal, I would attempt the experiment and either shows that it wasn’t practical or that it just plain didn’t work at all, that it was a wrong set of assumptions. So that cycle continued for about four iterations, until I finally came up with something that ultimately paid off in terms of a real thesis. But it took me from ’79 to ’86, and there’s a half in there, so it is ’85 and a half. It took me that long after getting the masters to do the research to get something that was publishable. I think the assumption on Ron’s part was that his students would figure out if something wasn’t going to work as soon as possible, and I was more, I think more in the mode of playing things out until they couldn’t get anything more out of them, and that prolonged things quite a bit. I do remember him telling me that he felt I was extremely unlucky [laughs] in my work, in that I would start a number of projects, all of which were really interesting, and it turns out that there just was no way to do the experiment. So I played them out to their end, but maybe lacked some of that internal intuition to tell me no, this isn’t going to work out, quit now. So in hindsight, I could have sped up that career quite a bit, but I’m sure every graduate student has that same insight. You might have the same yourself, I don't know. That was an incredible time, certainly one of the highlights of my life. It ranged from misery to joy. You’re fully independent, you’re dedicated to specific projects, there’s nothing in your way except nature herself. The funding was there.
The funding all comes from Shen’s general grant funds, university funds?
Right. And I actually stayed out of that. I just assumed it was there. I had a job. I was also a teaching assistant. The teaching was absolutely marvelous. I really truly enjoyed that, and I put in some ways my heart and soul into that. Much of that took place, of course, during the master’s degree time, and it was probably the first love at that time. I thought I was great at it; who knows what the undergraduates thought at the time. It’s something that I would still like to do one day. The graduate work was utilizing high-powered lasers to probe these so-called nonlinear optical effects in solids.
How do you define an optical effect as linear or nonlinear?
If I expose a simple atom to light, the electric field from that light interacts with the electrons of the atom, and as the light electric field is oscillating at a very high frequency, it causes the electrons also to oscillate at that frequency — it drives the electrons. Those electrons generally will follow the electric field linearly. They don’t move much physically, and of course the quantum mechanical — I’m being sort of classically thinking here. So as long as the electrons displacement is sort of linear with that electric field, then they will oscillate in phase and in step with that light source. And that causes them to reemit light, and that governs everything you’re looking at right now. The phenomenon of reflection is that of these fluorescent bulbs interacting with the electrons in the tabletop here, and they’re reemitting light, and that’s what reflection is all about. If the electric field gets extremely strong, such as is the case in a focused laser beam, then the electrons are forced into an excursion, which is much greater than is normally done. That forces the electron to start exploring the potential its trapped in, in a way that wouldn’t happen with a weaker source of light. So instead of being inside of a simple sort of potential well, it starts seeing a more complex potential, and its response then ceases to be linear with that electric field. So its displacement ceases to be linear with that. When that happens, life gets incredibly interesting. There is the extreme when it actually flies off the atom — you’ve stripped the atom of its electrons. But before that happens, it’s forced to oscillate in a more complex potential, and whereas it may have oscillated harmonically in one case, it will start bringing in higher harmonics, so second and third harmonics. That wouldn’t be anything but academically interesting if you didn’t realize the fact that that means it’s going to emit different colors of light than what came in. A second harmonic is half the wavelength, so I can shine in infrared light into a material, and if it is intense enough that those electrons respond anharmonically, then what comes out is actually green light. What’s just marvelous is that process has been optimized so much that you can do it very efficiently in certain types of crystals. So second harmonic generation is a standard way of extending a laser’s capability in wavelength. If you’ve used a laser pointer in the past, have you seen the green ones that are out? [I don’t think I have] I have one; I’ll show you. Inside of these things, as is always the case in technology today, people don’t grasp the complexity of what’s actually going on inside, but this is a very intense green beam I’m showing on the wall here. Inside is really an infrared laser diode, and then a crystal whose electrons are responding anharmonically to that infrared light and emitting green light. So the laser itself isn’t doing that; it’s the second harmonic generation crystal. So that’s an example of nonlinear optics: you put in one color and out comes another. The study of materials that emits second harmonic light was actually the field that Ron was particularly interested in. Right when I came in, they were studying the use of second harmonic generation to understand what’s going on at surfaces of various materials. So that was the key focus of a lot of his research. So you built a laser, sometimes from scratch. You then utilized it on a solid-state problem, and then published the results.
So you’re working specifically on surface enhanced Raman Effect.
Yes. This is actually one of the coolest optical phenomena I had ever encountered, and it really highlights the fact that light that interacts with matter does so mostly through its electric field. The last thing you’re going to want to do on a day with a lightning storm is stick up a piece of metal in the air, especially something pointy. That’s because the electric field between the Earth and the sky concentrates at these points and provides breakdown points. Lightening is a whole other subject. But the same thing happens on a microscopic scale on the surfaces of rough metals. The electric field of the light can actually be concentrated at the tips of very fine metal points. So locally the light is brighter in that region, and its interaction with molecules that are on that surface is enhanced. So someone made a discovery, I think it was even an electrochemist, that if they used sort of a standard laser spectroscopy method called Raman scattering on a type of molecule on the surface of a roughened metal, one which had lots of little tiny points sticking up, that they had sensitivity to a single layer of molecules, which by the back-of-the-envelope calculation should have been impossible. So initially, the ability to see that layer and to have that sensitivity was an enormous mystery. The experiment is something that is actually trivial to do. Assuming you have a laser — a good one. A piece of silver, just a chunk of silver, is immersed into an electrochemical cell. What does that mean? It’s just a bottle with some kind of electrolyte in it, and you have a counter electrode, say platinum. You send a current through this thing, and you do it once or twice, over and over again, and what that ends up doing is it plates silver off of the surface and back on, off and back on, and that process creates a, if you will, nanoscopically roughened metal surface. If you were to look at it under a microscope, it would be full of all these little jagged points. Then you take, I’ll just call it a drop of some organic material, in this case it was pyridine was a favorite, very smelly, stinky organic material. You never want to get it on your hands. That would absorb onto the surface through this same electrochemical process. You then shine a laser beam onto that metal surface and collect the light that scatters off of it, then you do spectroscopy, which means you look at how much light is coming off at each color. Lo and behold, a signal, a certain set of colors that are characteristic of that molecule, suddenly sort of leap out of the instrument. They become much, much more intense than the situation before you had cycled that silver and made the surface rough. So they knew it had something to do with the roughness of the surface and the absorption of that molecule onto that surface. Raman scattering is the situation where you give an atom or a molecule in this case, a lot of light energy, and some of that energy is used up in exciting a vibration in the molecule. So the light it ends up giving off has less energy, and that means its wavelength has shifted. So it’s actually kind of a nonlinear optical effect in that regard. And so you measure the wavelength of the light that it gives off, and you find out that there are certain peaks which differ from the wavelength that came in by an amount equal to the energy of the vibration of the molecule. So you can do infrared spectroscopy, or microwave spectroscopy even, just by looking at that difference in the wavelength coming off from the wavelength that came in. So Raman was a very famous Indian physicist that pioneered this work. Now the exciting thing was that people could study molecules on these metal surfaces. But frankly the more interesting thing is what the heck was going on? Why on Earth do you suddenly have molecular sensitivity from this simple experiment? And everyone was doing it because it was so simple. Well it turns out that this local field concentration was what was going on, to a large extent. It wasn’t the only effect, but it was a huge one, that those little corona points, if you will, were concentrating the light there, and it was as if the molecule were experiencing something that was hundreds of times more intense than its neighbors out in the fluid. So measuring that, understanding that in its detail was a terrific little problem to be solving. There was a leap forward from that in that if the light is concentrated at the metal surface for the Raman Effect; it would be concentrated at the surface for any nonlinear optical effect, and in the particular second harmonic generation, which I showed you with the laser pointer. And it turns out that was true. So Ron began to pioneer this whole area of second harmonic generation that surfaces to understand molecules. He formed partnerships with the Chemistry Department to do surface science. We partnered in particular with Gabor Somorjai from the Chemistry Department. The visitors would be coming in, China and France. Ron had a lot of connections with China, and that was fairly novel at the time.
Was he from China?
Ron was from Taiwan. I’d honestly gotten to know him better. There was a bit of a barrier there. He was still “the” professor. I’m sure his story from Taiwan would have been fascinating. But I did work with a post-doc from China, who was a much older man, Ze He Yu- and he had all kinds of interesting stories about the Cultural Revolution, which he experienced. His whole career was put on hold because of the Cultural Revolution, and he was out tilling the fields, essentially, and couldn’t touch his academic work. It’s a sad story. Anyway, the success in his group was based around this surfaced enhanced second harmonic generation optics, and he built a new career that way, and quite a fame. There were the conferences and the excitement, and some graduate students that went on to continue with that after their academic career as they became professors or worked at Bell Labs or at IBM.
I have a list of publications I just pulled out. Obviously a lot of these have Shen as an author on them, so they’re just from that work. But then you also work with Francis and Trend. Is that from here?
That’s from here, that's from 3M.
Why don’t we move on to the transition to 3M then. You went into this a little bit in your interview five years ago. You had a few different options: Hewlett Packard, Kodak, Shell, Dow, DuPont.
When it came time to look for a job, as I said, the area of optics, especially in telecommunications, optical memory was becoming hot at the time. So optics was big. My wife at the time (I got married when I was in graduate school [This was in 1986?]I was married in 1982, graduated in ’86), she used to tease of the fact that my cover letter consisted of a 3x5 card saying “Here’s my resume.” By today’s standards, things were really quite trivial to get a job in those days. Now I had to work at it, and had to have some kind of career behind you or resume behind you, but the jobs were plentiful. It was probably one of the peaks, if you were in the optics or solid-state field in the later ’80s. So I sent resumes off to lots of people. We had recruiters coming into the campus. One recruiter in particular was from 3M. Chris Chow — was his name; bless his heart. He informed us, first of all, that a company called 3M existed, which none of us really — you know, everyone knows about Scotch Tape, but no one ever thought of it as a place for a physicist to work at, and what on Earth would that be about? But 3M was very much trying to mimic the success of Bell Labs, and decided it wanted a basic research component. Which I’m sure, with my experience here now, was the inspiration of some vice president. And times were good, money was plentiful, so this seemed reasonable. Telecommunications was hot. 3M had an electrical and telecommunications division. It was making a reasonable amount of money. And one of the hot areas was trying to make electro-optical or all optical telecommunication switches out of plastic. So polymer electro-optic switches was one of the big, big deals. And it’s a nonlinear optical effect, and I’d been studying nonlinear optics. I didn’t know much about polymers at the time, but I’d had my organic chemistry work from way back in high school, so I still loved the subject. This just seemed absolutely perfect for me. We had a job where I could be allowed to do basic research. The funding seemed unlimited. By the time I was at full speed on the research here at 3M, we had three massive $150,000 laser systems going each, fully equipped laboratory, everything I could ever want in terms of equipment. It was a heady time, really. It was just a joy. So that was very attractive.
Judging on what you were saying before, this is a fairly recent development for 3M to be going into more basic kinds of research?
The research at 3M has always been critical. We’re known as an innovative company. To me it is an institution filled with inventors, and that occurs at many levels. One of them is at the very basic level, and the debate in industry has been and always will be to what extent do you fund the basic research. If you come up with the core technology, as they often call it, that is unique to your corporation, you can build from that. For example, the core technology at 3M of adhesives allowed them to build the Post-It adhesive, which certainly was useful for the company. So the thought here was to have a technology base in optical polymers, and to feed the telecommunications industry with new devices. That was the dream. So they needed physicists to do that.
Did they have any basis in that ahead of time?
They had a few people here who are still good friends. So I would say when I came on board there were probably half a dozen people working in this particular area. It was a hot field at the time. Kodak was interested in it, Dow, DuPont, just a whole host of industries. Every single industry had the same dream: they wanted to make these ultra-fast, cheap switches and become the major supplier, so it was going to be a big business. So after interviewing with a number of these various companies, it seemed like 3M had one of the greatest potentials. I mentioned earlier Hui Hsiung, whom Peter Yu had tried to convince us both to go into academia. He went off to Kodak, and I chose 3M, and the two of us had both whittled it down to those two companies, and I don't know if we flipped a coin or what, but at the time I had a girlfriend that lives in the Rochester [New York] area who I broke up with. It’s fascinating, it’s just a trivial detail, but that meant I wasn’t going to go to Kodak. Life causes many odd decisions. So we make our choices in life. My wife and I came here in May, which as you know is a beautiful time in this state. We were shown the St. Croix River, and how gorgeous this whole area can be. She’s from Colorado. She likes the outdoors. She didn’t go with me anywhere else when I went on my interview tour, and she says this is a wonderful place. We didn’t know about the snow. We had no idea what kind of winter this would be. She was from Colorado; she knew how to survive in winter. When we came here we moved here in January. I thought I was going to die. This just was an unreasonable place to put a human being — that was my first conclusion. I did know another physicist who went to 3M, he was also from Berkeley. I can’t remember his name, because he left 3M about the time that I came, so I got to know him after I had accepted coming here. He characterized this place as Siberia, and said why on Earth would anyone choose to live here? I’ve since come to love it. So that means I can probably like just about any kind of weather. What was interesting in the graduate career, and 3M — only interesting to me — is that I ran into a snag in my thesis work, so I had interviewed at 3M, and actually decided to work in the optical memory area, which was another hot area. So we were going to make magneto-optical disks, and 3M made them for a while when that was the way to store information. It was based on a fascinating optical effect, and it was another way to store information. So I was going to come work on that. I had signed everything away and I was just ready to start. I was at the tail end of the thesis when I realized that something was very wrong with the experiment, and the explanations I’d had were not right. So I couldn’t in good faith go in front of a committee and defend this darn thing. After some soul searching, I realized I had another year’s work ahead of me. So I remember calling a fellow who is now a technical director in the division I’m working in, Steve Webster, and I called Steve and I said, “Look, Steve, this is going to take me another year. Can you guys hold the job?” And he said, “No. There’s no way we can do that. We need someone now. The field is hot,” and so forth. So I said, “Okay, good-bye.” So I lost my job [chuckles] right away. The year concluded with kind of a revelation about the explanation of what I had been observing in the laboratory. I was able to work through the explanation. It was a wonderful year of other experiments I did. I actually expanded upon the work that I had, published, and then got the thesis done. And then I went and interviewed with 3M again. Turns out, that’s when they had the nonlinear optical group forming, and it was way more interesting to me. The HP job was also magneto optical work. One year after I had interviewed and was accepted for employment, both at HP and 3M in the magneto-optical area, that field crashed. It became a dinosaur technology. No one wanted it. It was gone.
What was the thing that kind of overturned it?
Probably magnetic storage just getting that much more efficient and just plain old CDs where you just blast a little bit of aluminum out of the way and you’re done. But magnetic storage just got too efficient, so the magneto-optic didn’t cut it anymore. That’s a continuous cycle. Basing your career on a technology is always kind of risky. So this thing opened up at 3M, and we came. But thanks to the recruiting of Chris Chow at Berkeley to let us know that 3M existed, that this field existed. So basically the career path was one of following nonlinear optics. We had a huge team of chemists and physics types. By huge I mean about 15 people working on trying to make polymers into telecommunication devices. It’s an interesting field. It came to an end through the realization that polymers had severe limitations, and the fact that the telecom bubble completely burst.
How long did this last in the meantime?
It was a long time. I don't know the date of the last publication. It might actually suggest it.
The last one I have was 1993, “Isocyanate Cross-Linked Polymers for Nonlinear Optics”. Before that is ’91, “Second Harmonic Generation As a Probe of Rotational Mobility in Poled Polymers.”
Yeah, that really was fun stuff. That had to do with — second harmonic generation requires that the molecules or the environment be asymmetric. Things have to point in one direction, but not in another. So it actually has to have some kind of direction associated with it. A surface is a good example: there’s an up and a down to it. In a molecule, you need certain parts of that molecule to point in one direction. So how do you get them to point that way? Well one way is to apply a DC field, an electric field, and they literally just align in the same way as a compass would align in a magnetic field. You turn on this voltage and all these molecules literally turn in this field, and then the goal was to lock them into that position through polymer chemistry. That was called poling. It was neat, because I could use second harmonic generation, which was sensitive to that orientation, as a probe of what was going on in the molecules during the process. And when you turn off that field after you had polymerize things and kind of locked them in, they’d actually relax, and that relaxation was of interest to polymer chemists and polymer physicist. So this was a new probe into plastics. And I had a great time with that. We were interested in it from a practical standpoint in that it’s no good if it’s properties were going to relax over time, and your device is changing on you. So it was a way to characterize a material. And I think a lot of what I did, and a lot of what industrial physicists do, is to figure out ways of measuring stuff. So this was an optical technique to do that. When I came into the group, they didn’t have the experience that I had had, so it was good to be able to make that contribution. They certainly had some wonderful things going on.
Why don’t we try and draw out a little map, I guess, of the laboratories in the company and the divisions and so forth. So you said you came into an electrical and telecoms division?
I actually came into the corporate laboratories, and our customer, if you will, was the division that was interested in electro-optic switches. They actually were down in Austin, Texas. A basic researcher only needs money and the hint of motivation, and off they go. Their world consists of the laboratory work that they’re doing, and making it a success. And coming to conclusions — your life is all about conclusions, in my opinion. Had we connected more closely with the industry that would ultimately be using those products, I’m not so sure we would have taken it as far as we did. We explored hundreds and hundreds of polymers. By that, I’m talking about small variations, so in all maybe sort of like a dozen classes. My job often was figuring out ways to characterize these things. We had another fellow, Robert Moshrefzadeh, within the company, another optical physicist, who is now a patent attorney, who was interested in making devices out of these things. So we had device physics, we had characterization physics; we had substance and materials physics, all happening within this corporate research laboratory.
So the corporate research laboratory, which is here, and that’s just independent of everything else?
The corporate research labs at that time were all about servicing the company as a whole. We were sort of the basic research arm of things. Now obviously at some point you’ve got to have a project you’ve got to work on; you can’t just say, “Well, we’re scientists.” And so we were focused on telecom-related things entirely. Then, when that project ultimately closed (which I think was detailed in the earlier discussion), another one was formed to again meet a telecom need of cheap components. That had nothing to do with nonlinear optics, but it had everything to do with polymerization and molding and the optics of very small channels. So it was more classical optics. And again, that fed in from the corporate research lab back down to Austin.
So the corporate research lab, you would have chemists involved in the adhesives, and another section in something else
That’s exactly right. That’s a very good example. You had people who were electrochemists, you had people who were synthesizers, you had people who knew polymers in and out, and who knew adhesives, you had people who understood abrasives and all of their complexities.
And that feeds the various technology divisions with…?
Right. I don't know if you’ve seen some of the 3M literature about our core technologies, but there is actually a very nice visual that was created that looks like the Periodic Table. In it, instead of the elements, each one is a two-letter acronym for a particular core technology. So micro replication would be one, ceramics would be another one, coating technology would be another one, and so forth. And what 3M prides itself on, and I think to a large extent this is really quite true, is the amalgamation of all of those disciplines into invention for new products. That’s how we survive is by continually reinventing ourselves.
So then from time to time you would say we have something that’s interesting, go talk to engineers from time to time and see if they can make something out of it. They in turn are in contact with production divisions and sales.
Right. That’s absolutely correct. What often characterizes the work that goes on at 3M is in a basic research area, you’ll have a solution in search of a problem. What you find in that environment is that when you do finally have these conversations with those that want to use your technology…
How often would these conversations take place? Would they be regular?
Not often enough. This is kind of where I’m going. You would often find that they would hit you with myriads of constraints, anywhere from, “Well, it’s nice that it has that optical property. But it also has to survive being inside of a car in the desert, and in Minnesota in the winter.” Or that this has to work in a high humidity environment, and that part of that molecule simply won’t survive. Or it has to work out in the sun. Or, “Frankly, I’m fascinated by the fact that it’s made out of thorium, but that’s toxic.” Or, “It’s just too costly.” So that’s when the basic researcher in the industrial environment finally understands that industrial physics, if you will, is a multi-constrained problem-solving endeavor. In fact, I usually say that industrial science in general is over-constrained. It is highly unlikely that you will make a product, if you are at the basic research level of things.
I think you mentioned that in your interview with Tom, that industrial research is the most difficult kind of research because it is over-constrained in that way.
And I still believe that. In academia, if you get an interesting effect, and you can elicit it properly, you’re done, really. It’s a wonderful way to live, but it doesn’t always pay for itself. So the flip side of that is you spend all your time looking for the money. In industry you’ve got the money, but now you’ve got to try to satisfy customers. If you think a peer review committee is hard, customers are far more difficult to satisfy, especially in an age like today where cost is everything.
When you come here, then, you’re just sort of part of the general research team, and you have a supervisor of some kind whose job it is to set the agenda for that research team. Who would have been that person when you came in?
It was Bill Egbert when I first started. A very nice fellow, very smart guy. Like I say, those were the days when the fact that you were doing basic research in the field was sufficient. As I talked about last time, I made the transition to a division where I felt that the research would be a little more relevant to the bottom line of the company, which had given me such a privilege for so long of doing something fairly basic, but I tired of the fact that I was doing things that were more or less academic.
Right, so it was very satisfying from a researcher’s point of view, but you wanted it to be more in line with company goals.
Right, right. A professor can say that the fascination and the cause and effect is sufficient for motivation. Here I had to say it had a bottom line to it, and I couldn’t point to one for a lot of the work that I had done. We had a goal, but they all fell short of a product. And a lot of that was because of a lack of asking customers questions. Had you spent time in telecom and understood precisely what they needed, and then gone back to 3M, it would have taken a very different path. Instead we were working on “wouldn’t this be neat, maybe someone will want it — let’s do it”.
When did you come to this realization that you wanted to be a little bit more in tune with what would be practical?
After this nonlinear optics electro optic switch sort of thing came to this conclusion that polymers were impractical.
Who came to that conclusion and pulled the switch?
I think I did. I don’t mean to put myself up on any kind of a pedestal here. The reason I said I did is because it came to the point, as I mentioned last time, I was teaching this subject at these SPIE conferences, and I had amassed a fairly complete compendium, if you will, of all of the research going on in second and third-order nonlinear optics of polymers for telecommunication devices. If I didn’t understand the depth of it, I knew where to tell people to go look. So I taught this three-hour course and was writing. In fact I had one book deal, I was going to write a book on the subject, and then I also had a book chapter that I published, I think it’s listed in there [the CV]. The editor for the book died, and soon after the field collapsed. The last class I taught, I advised all of the eager students to choose something else, because it consisted in the end of proofs that the polymers were not going to be practical devices for what are now fairly simple reasons in my mind. So it’s at that point that you realize that you are more or less clueless about the practicalities of things. In an industrial environment where you depend on profit for funding, there is a certain amount of integrity that drives you then to say okay, stop; you shouldn’t be doing this thing anymore. When I switched to a different kind of telecom project, there were equally fascinating things that were part of this. But again, I remember sitting down with a customer at one point, actually a real customer at a conference, and telling him all about the research that we were doing and getting his interest level, and realizing in the few minutes that we were going down the wrong path, after a year and half’s worth of work because we hadn’t connected with a customer. I said okay, that’s it. We’ve got to start there first. And the pendulum swings in industry, if you ask me. Sometimes you get too close to the customer, you don’t explore outside the box. So put people in the box for a while, or in an environment where they can just sort of freely think and explore. And I came into 3M at that moment. And then it swings all the way to the other end, where you’re saying you will only do something that is satisfying a specific customer’s need, and sometimes that will be coming up with another color of paint. You know, it gets mundane like that.
So now these kinds of pendulum swings, is this most closely related to changes in management, the business organization, just what seems to be possible?
I think it’s multifaceted. Some of it depends on just how the economy is doing. If you’ve got money, then you’ve got money to spend, and your research dollars might go towards something more academic. If you think that your technologies are saturating, you’ll put more money into the basic research, the exploration. You’ll take a gamble. The probability of success from basic research is always small. But it does have consequences, and there are so many times when you’ve said, “Gosh, if we hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t have known this particular fact, and it wouldn’t have led to this product.”
Is it your feeling that these sorts of swings are industry wide, or are they more within the company?
They’re certainly within the company. I think it happens globally. There are mega trends, though.
Well, I mean all at the same time versus…
Good question. I think right now probably most industries are tightening all their belt buckles and telling the basic researchers to either take a hike or get practical. You know, Bell Labs closed forever. IBM switched its research from very academic, Nobel Prize-winning stuff, as did Bell Labs, to academia. And those who I knew in Bell Labs and IBM ultimately became professors. So they chose to stick with the academic side of things.
Let me just go back and ask about when you’re becoming an expert on nonlinear optical polymers, for example, to what degree is there a community beyond the laboratory here that you’re participating in on that? Obviously you’re in competition with other companies; there are academics you might be in tighter or loser collaboration with or whose papers you’re reading. I’m just wondering what that terrain looks like.
It was well populated. There were probably half a dozen major corporations that all had their eye on the same prize. We all went to these SPIE (Society for Professional Industrial Engineers) conferences. They were all subjects of the Optical Society of America conferences going on. Books were being written, papers were just flying out of the computers on this subject. You had theorists working on molecular orbital theory of why some molecules had more nonlinear behavior than others. You had experimentalists working on various measurement techniques, such as myself. There were device people that were trying to make some of the rudimentary devices out of these things. You had the military funding ultra-fast switching. It was a heady field. You had people in universities, especially at the optics places such as University of Arizona, University of Rochester, and the Creole in Florida. So all of these institutions were represented at these conferences, and it was a heady time. Industrial research and conferences is almost a contradiction. You typically go to these things to advertise what you have. An SPIE conference is heavily loaded with industry, and your willingness to share details at these conferences only goes so far as you’re willing to compromise your proprietary position. So the amount that you shared was always tempered by a profit motivation, which means they weren’t really scientific conferences. I distinctly remember people standing up from academia, literally yelling at the industrial presenters for not revealing what they were doing. Most of us, after our experience in industry, were thinking that their questions were insane. You know: “I’d love to answer your question, but how can you possibly expect me to reveal this?” Meanwhile they would be talking about their research in great detail, and we’d be taking notes, and it was very much one sided. So I felt for them. So there were a lot of people playing in this area. It was a hot topic. And I think that had a momentum all its own. It almost didn’t matter if it was practical. All the papers began with the requisite paragraphs motivating the enormous profit for anyone who solved these problems. It was a little like the cold fusion days. [Laughs] I ultimately came to know that a lot of that was hype. I think that was another reason I wanted to get into a division — I was tired of the hype, because I saw it for what it was.
That segues into some curiosity I had about some of the papers you had published versus a patenting process. What sort of process would you have to go through before you would…? I suppose there were things you would put out in the Chemistry of Materials or the Journal of the Optical Society of America. How would you decide?
First priority of industry is to file, to protect your ideas. So you file a patent as quickly as you possibly can. And the patent filing process can be a fairly quick one if you’ve got good attorneys. Then you’re allowed to talk about what you want, but only, again, with permission. There is a risk. If you file the patent, and some people use the term “patent pending” in that regard, you still don’t have any rights to that idea until the claims have actually been allowed. And that’s a multi-year process. It’s probably one of the slowest things. It’s probably not as slow as getting FDA approval for a new drug, but it’s on that order. So you take a risk when you present things at industry. When you try to share some of that information, you will often couch things. If there’s a molecular structure, for example, that is critical to the success of your work, you may draw a schematic of it, it is this kind of bit here and that sort of bit there, so that you hide the details to some extent. Which would infuriate the academics in the audience. But more often than not, we traded information fairly freely in those days because a lot of people were doing very similar things. If you had a certain trick, like a particular kind of chemistry that would help lock in the molecular orientation, as I mentioned earlier, that’s something we might keep secret until we filed, and then we may want to publish. I sometimes think my interest in publishing was probably greater than my interest in patenting at the time, but I knew it was required.
What’s kind of the general attitude? Does it vary a great deal as to whether people really want to get out there and publish versus feeling content to keep things in their pocket?
Since being in the division, the motivation to publish has dwindled to zero.
I guess I don’t understand or know over the course of time how the organization or the status of the corporate laboratory of 3M changed over time. Is that still as it was when you found it, or has it been divided up into servicing the divisions more directly?
Well, it’s gone through quite a few evolutions. The central corporate laboratory more or less disbanded at some point and it became division specific. Then there were technology centers.
This is in the ’90s yet?
Oh lord. [Sorry.] No, no, these are good questions; I just wish I knew the answers. You know, I’ll be honest with you. The ebb and flow or organizational details is the lifeblood of management, and the change is such a constant that there ceases to be eras in one’s mind here. Otherwise you’d dwell on it, you’d go insane. What counts is the work that’s being done, in my mind, usually, so I honestly ignore the detail. I wonder if Dave Hoyle would be able to help you out in that regard. But the technology centers I thought were fairly successful. So for example, you’d have a group of individuals focused on adhesives technology, you’d have ones focused on ceramics technology and so forth. So they became centers of expertise, centers of new research in those roughly specific areas that would service the company. So they went from being generalists to a little more specific. Then in the McNerney era, the technology centers were more or less disbanded and it all became division specific — each division was responsible for their own basic research. Many believed that was in error because of the generality of the corporation. Our strength comes from the interdependence as opposed to the siloing of each division. We have since gone back to corporate labs with broad names, like the Corporate Research Process Laboratory. So they will understand how to do coatings on plastic films, how to deal with long films which we call webs here. Then there is the Corporate Research Materials Laboratory, which has reinstated the adhesives core again.
So the way I have it understood right now is you start out with the Central Corporate Lab, then you go to the technology centers, then you go to the division specific in the McNerney era, then back to these corporate labs with the broad names.
Right, with George Buckley as our new CEO.
When did he come in?
Oh, [chuckles] that is on our website. I’ll refer you to that. [That sounds fine.] Anyone who knows me will testify to the fact that dates are not my strength. When you mentioned you wanted dates and names I thought this is going to be horrible.
I will refer myself to the annual reports.
Yeah, it’s far more reliable than asking me that. It’s been a few years with George Buckley. George’s focus when he started has been trying to reinvigorate the inventiveness within the corporation. McNerney was focused on tightening our cost savings methods.
Because he introduced Six Sigma, right?
He did. In an effort to bring discipline to the work that people were doing, and I say in an effort to do that, he established some methodologies, which I think were good. So we had people who are now experts in utilizing statistics and utilizing a methodology to try and improve processes, you know, ways of making stuff, that is actually to this day still very practical and much appreciated
It is still under the Six Sigma rubric?
Yes, still called Six Sigma. And you’ll interview various people, if you’re interested in more, at 3M that run the gamut of “it was a complete disaster” to “it was the best thing that ever happened to us”. The truth is somewhere in between.
I’m interested, as long as we’re on the subject, in who we might want to talk to to understand the corporate research history.
A good person would be Steve Webster that I mentioned earlier. Steve would be a marvelous interview for you. The other individual to talk to who is head of the general research at 3M is Fred Polanski. Getting on their calendars is another thing. Fred is very high up on our ladders here; he’s close to the CEO.
So you have sort of a general director of research.
Who is either within a specific division, if it were within the division specific laboratories, so you’d have several directors of research in that case, versus a central one?
Right. There’s a tree in its own. Steve Webster is a Vice President of Research in the Display and Graphics business. In Display and Graphics, we have products related to that are things like signage, whether it be stop signs or stuff laminated on the side of trucks, to the Optical Systems Division that I work in now, which is making display components. And that’s his area.
So Steve Webster, and then Fred Polanski, who is a general director of research?
Right. He’ll give you a broader overview. On the org chart you can follow down from Fred and really branch out. I’m drawing a blank on some very famous people here right now. [That’s fine. We’ll have to do the on-the-ground research]. If you want to understand the whole research community at 3M, it would be probably a lifetime study in itself. It’s a terrific story. I don't know if you’ve read any of the books that have been published about 3M innovation and so forth, but I’m sure they would be a good read.
Then why don’t we talk about your personal history then. I guess we have about a half hour left on the time. You moved to be a business manager, and then a research manager, correct?
Right. The general theme is I came in as a physicist, then on to a project leader, which teaches you a lot about management skills. And then into the division, I again was sort of back as a physicist again working on a specific project. I shifted from that into we made a product, which was a piece of optic. I did during that time, what makes 3M a marvelous place to work, I was CTO, a little CEO, if you will, of this small business that we had selling a specific product into digital cameras and video camera things, where we got to do everything from the basic components to the assembly to the marketing to the business analysis, and so forth. So technically I was listed as the business manager, but I was also in the laboratory. So to me it was a heady, wonderful experience where the diversity of the work that I had was just wonderful. But it taught me about making a profit. It taught me about how to keep customers in Asia happy, despite the fact that they thought we were too expensive. It taught me about protecting the business at a time when your customers are desperate to get you out of the picture for a cheaper option. So all of those basic skills were garnered during that time.
You sort of shift your base of operations, then, when you become the CTO? Before you were in the lab, then are you in more of a headquarters type of place?
No, I’m in my office. It was a small company. It made millions, but in the division I was in, that’s not so much. But I was honestly having such a good time, and we were growing. And the whole point was to try and diversify our division. We had been focused on a few key products for quite a long time, so it was part of that. And the supervisor that was supporting my work, [Terry Jones, who has since retired,] was very sympathetic towards new things, so that was good. When I decided to pass that business on, simply because I saw the limit to its potential, I didn’t see how we could expand our business significantly.
Sorry, I know you’ve mentioned, but what was the business?
We were making viewfinder optics.
This was for the small displays?
Yes. If you pick up a digital camera — and this is the days when the LCD was one option; the other was to put your eye up to it — there was actually a liquid crystal display inside the device that was illuminated in a way that required transferring a light from an LED onto this surface and out again. And to do that without distortion, to do it cheaply, to do it with high fidelity and high brightness and so forth, that was the optical trick.
This is with the brightness enhancing films?
That was part of it. We were using the standard films in our division in a very unusual way. Instead of selling large sheets of film, which was what the division was used to doing, we were actually making components — one level of integration higher. So that also was unique to the division, and it was high customized. So, that was a wonderful time that we had, and something that was a good experience. It also taught me that 3M can be a very willing subject for new things. This is the case where it was making money, no one was going to argue with it, it wasn’t using a lot of resources, lord knows. It just had limited growth potential, so I decided to exit that. And based on the management work that I had done in that experience and prior, I thought I would try my hand at just being a technical manager. That meant less laboratory work and more supervisory work. From a personal point of view, I found pure laboratory work to be a little too isolated. I am somewhat energized by people around me, and I wasn’t getting that in the lab. So the management route seemed a good idea. So I started with a small group in the laboratory. It grew.
How interchangeable are the parts within the organization? You have a group that’s stable for a while, or people come in and out?
Fluidity is probably the rule as opposed to the exception. Org charts are something that fluctuates from sometimes month to month, certainly year to year. So within the laboratory, I had a group that was focused on next generation products. That's always been my interest. And we came up with a number of things. So that was good. There was a change in lab tech director at one point, and that refocused us more on practicality. By that I don’t mean we were impractical to start with, but much more product focused, much less basic interest.
Is this the sort of thing where you have a phenomenon and you know that the phenomenon exists, you don’t have to go looking for it — that would be too basic. But then you try and see if there is anything you might do with it. Is that a definition of the sort of research you’re thinking of?
Well, the level of research was sort of taking the products that we had to another level. So we already had products that were successful, and we wanted to optimize their performance.
So it is on the basis of these core technologies that you might look for… a different material or something.
Right. And we were always on the lookout, talking to other people in the company. But we had a lot of customers who wanted more performance out of what we were selling them. So it was really an effort to keep differentiating yourself from competition.
Obviously you keep an eye on patents that are being filed in other places. Would you have any notion of who the actual researchers are who are in other companies, who are working on your area? Maybe the occasional name?
In the basic research level in the earlier part of the career, which was more the case. We knew the researchers by name — they were friends, actually. In fact sometimes we would invite them over to share, and they would give a seminar, or I would go and give a seminar. But then as you get closer to the division and the product, the walls go up, and that kind of interaction is rare.
Is that an organizational thing, or are there still people who do that who are working at more at the research level?
The comradery in a field if you’re more basic I think continues, but as you get closer to things that are more proprietary, and especially as you get into the realm of trade secrets, that kind of interaction, fortunately or unfortunately, is discouraged. So you have to become your own expert. We are aware of the competitors’ products, we’re aware of competitors’ claims. Very often our customers will tell us what competitors are doing in a generic sense, sometimes to drive price down. You know, “So and so is coming out with a better phone than you can enable right now. So what are you going to do about it?” And obviously a lot of energy is spent in our division doing competitive analysis. If a product comes out, we want to know everything we can about it. And if it’s sold commercially, we have all rights to take it apart, try and reverse engineer it. And everyone is always doing that.
In trying to establish these things, obviously there’s a technical side of things. I suppose there are business analysts, economists, or something of that sort who you also are working with in these areas?
That’s a good point — you know, how do you choose the project that you’re going to focus on, and so much of it is actually market driven. A good scientist can explain anything, given the data they are given, and can probably come up with a myriad of solutions. And this gets into what I called the over-constrained problem where once you start throwing in the marketing and the unit cost issues, and you have to keep checking yourself on that, then you redeploy your resources, you change your thinking accordingly. We just presented a particular kind of solution to a display problem to a couple of our business managers in a particular display segment, and their response was, “Great work, lads, but we’re not going to make money doing that.” OK, so all right, fine. You have to retool.
Is there much of a notion of particular fields being represented? Would you know a physicist from a chemist from a physics chemist within a group, or does it sort of get redefined within the research group, so that these are the people that work on this, these are the people that work on that.
The lines are there, and you know people’s expertise. Sometimes it’s based on experience, sometimes academics. There are those who try to be generalists. Sometimes you’ll be surprised to find out that someone who you thought was a chemist is actually a materials scientist, and that sort of thing. You gather skills that are worthwhile within the company, and then that’s what you become. My background in classic optics as opposed to the nonlinear stuff was fairly weak, and I again learned by osmosis to get it. So I guess I’m considered kind of an expert in that here, but it wasn’t my formal training. So you redefine yourself.
How about differences between researchers and engineers. Is that pretty sharp, has it changed over time?
In these days, if you’re labeled as an academic within the company…
People actually get the academic label?
Yeah, they do. And I’ve had that label for a while. I was in Asia recently and they were referring to me as Professor. Which is fine. It was meant as a compliment and that’s fine. But if it is felt that you are basically doing research with no practical payoff, it’s not good for your career. After all, the money comes from sales ultimately. You have to keep that in the forefront of your thoughts at all times: “What good is this?”
How about regional collaborations, I mean is there sort of a local Minneapolis-St. Paul, University of Minnesota connection?
The 3M location that you’re at right now is often referred to as The Campus. This is the core where most of the expertise lies. My division has its customer base in Asia almost 100%, so we have sister labs in those locations, and one of our big challenges is trying to shift expertise from the US to Asia through training and so forth. But in the end, the breadth of expertise of all the 3M technologies is here in St. Paul. Austin is often challenged by that, and each of the places that exists as a separate entity tends to rely on the core that exists here in this location.
I mean beyond the company as well. I think when I was working out in Minnetonka, for example, we had a relationship with a lab at the University of Minnesota.
Oh, outside lab connections and so forth?
Yes. You know, you enter into a contract to shop out a little bit of the research to the academics.
There is some level of that. We adore the outside experts that come and help us that have some dedication to the company. There are patents that are filed in unison with certain professors, for example. But it is not the mainstay of the 3M research. A lot of it’s very much homegrown. Some of it will come in through acquisition. I think that’s the general tendency, that you want to keep it in-house, if you can.
And as far as funding goes, most of it comes from the business, but do you occasionally get a research funding grant — I know one of the other company gets funding from DARPA, for example?
Well there are portions of 3M which get their funding sometimes solely from working with say the Defense Department, for example, or the National Institute of Health and so forth.
Not so much your division?
Our division does not, no. We are purely a business in large way. Now we support certain academic connections. We participate on committees, which I’d say are fairly general, but always with the idea that this would generate new products or help us sell the products that we have.
We grilled you on this last time: one of the major aspects of this History of Physics in Industry project is to get a grip on how different industries are dealing with their recordkeeping. So I was asked to ask you how that may have changed since we last spoke in regard to laboratory notebooks, other things going electronic, that sort of thing.
Well, it’s an interesting transition. We are still required as laboratory people to maintain a lab notebook, in which you record ideally the day’s work that you have done, you sign it, and then you have it counter-signed within a reasonable amount of time. That counter-signature represents the official time stamp, then, of the work that was done on that page. That’s used for patent purposes. So the recordkeeping is to some extent for the researcher’s own benefit or for the corporation’s own benefit, but primarily for providing time stamps for intellectual property.
And this is still mostly the same as it was?
That hasn’t changed. The other form of recordkeeping has to do with technical reports that are published internally, which are then circulated widely and kept in a central database. I would say what’s changed in the past five years is the massive proliferation of databases within the company, and it continues to be an IT challenge for many of us. I probably have close to 200 databases that I have at least on my computer to work with. The ones that I access are probably a handful. But keeping up with that is difficult.
This is actually why I was actually hired out in Minnetonka for that, to kind of be a database monkey to them, pull things together.
Hopefully more than a monkey! But it’s a constant challenge to try to keep up with how to communicate information. We have internal seminars. There was a technology that our materials lab just was excited about, and so I brought in that individual into our division to give a talk. That helps. Then everyone learns what their database is, and you find out information from them that way.
Are these databases primarily off-the-shelf sorts of things, or do you design them?
Our email system is through Lotus Notes, and Lotus Notes has a way of keeping databases. There are other types. We also are getting into the Wiki revolution, we have Wiki sites within the company. We have intranet sites as well. It’s quite a little IT community, actually — very dense jungle to try to manipulate your way through. If a person talks to a customer, learns some information, how do you share that globally and throughout the whole organization? That’s the challenge. How does everyone get to know about it? If someone makes a discovery in the laboratory, how do you communicate that internally? We have in our case many, many teleconferences with Asia. Usually two or three evenings in the week I’m in a teleconference with Asia. So you quite often in this division don’t have your evenings to yourself. It really becomes a 24/7 job in that regard. Two time zone businesses are very tough on people.
Were you in that when we were here five years ago, the same sort of Asia-centered…?
Yes, we had videoconferences then. Now it’s a lot of teleconferences with programs that allow you to share slides real time. We’ve gone away from the cameras. It added nothing to a discussion, except a lot of choppy pictures of people and it didn’t matter. This kind of one-on-one exchange, I can see your face and body language. There it’s not real time enough, the bandwidth wasn’t high enough.
We just got into that at the AIP [did you, videoconferences?] yeah, we just bought some fancy new equipment and it actually works quite well.
I’m sure, and it’s wonderful. But we found that the most valuable thing for us in our division was to share slides and the data and that sort of thing. It’s all PowerPoint. Without PowerPoint I don’t see how we would exist. You know, this is also how records are being kept now. In the past five years, we have transitioned from Word to PowerPoint. That’s the simplest thing I can say. The days of detailed technical reports is gone, I would say is almost disappeared. If a person wants to record the work they do, they typically will write what’s called a record of invention to detail. The reason is that few will ever take the time now to read a technical report. We’re simply too swamped with information and meetings and so forth that we have to deal with, we haven’t got the time.
So you find there are just a few points of necessary information that people need to know in order to make their own decisions with regard to whatever is going on?
That’s right. And so communicate quickly, succinctly, and get that information out through a PowerPoint. If you can’t do it with bullets, then it’s not worth it. That in itself is a long topic for discussion. I don’t really fully agree with that method. But it is the standard. If you can’t use PowerPoint, you’re worthless here. [Chuckles] So that is a massive change that has taken place. And so records are often kept as a database will simply contain PowerPoint presentations and a few spreadsheets with data. But the full explanation in great detail with all the equations and introductions and so forth in a Word document is gone.
Have the legal requirements changed much? You mentioned the lab notebooks being roughly the same.
No, I’d say not. Law is often the last thing to change.
Joe Anderson was telling me that five years ago was kind of a time of downsizing around here. You kind of mentioned that there were sort of pressures at the moment. I was wondering in the past five years if there has been an arc between the two positions, or if it has plateaued?
It’s more like a cliff. This past year — obviously everyone is aware of the recession we’re in right now. That’s caused a certain amount of downsizing. In our particular business, we’ve had an influx of competition that has caused us to reorganize significantly, and a certain fraction of our workforce has retired.
Who are the other primary players who you have on your radar [as competitors] for your particular products?
There’s a wide range. There are a lot of startup companies that have been able to challenge our particular business, and there are vertically integrated institutions that not only make the displays but they are also creating their own components, and sometimes displacing our supply chain that way. So there is quite a large family of competitors for us right now.
I supposed you’re out of time. In that case, I thank you — it was a good session.