On the scene at the Hilton Head Workshop 2010

Contributed by Paul Werbaneth, VP Marketing & Applications, Tegal Corporation

“Old haunts,” I’m thinking, “old haunts.”

There’s an Apparition Ale in my hand as I sit waiting for dinner at the Moon River Brewing Company on W. Bay Street in Savannah, GA, and some fried green tomatoes on their way to join the crab cakes already on my table.  Outside the window I catch a glimpse of an old hearse, done up as a tour vehicle, scaring up business for a Savannah (America’s Most Haunted City) spirit tour.

It’s old haunt week for me, returning to Savannah and the South Carolina Lowcountry after twenty-odd years away, and those preppy-looking kids at the Pato Banton show I catch later at the Live Wire Music Hall ($2.50 Genny Cream Ales on tap!) on River Street could have been me and friends ca. 1978.  (Did we listen to reggae music back then?  Yes we did.  Polo shirts with embroidered alligators?  Check.  Topsiders?  Check.  Faded brick-red shorts with whale figures?  Maybe, although that’s a little more Vampire Weekend – Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa than we were at the time.)

I’m on my way to the 2010 Hilton Head Workshop, and after a day flying across the country from SFO I am bivouacking in Savannah before the final drive to Shipyard Plantation and the Crown Plaza Resort, MEMS central for the week.  I’ve never participated in the Workshop before, although my personal experience with Hilton Head Island goes back to the summer of the first manned moon landing, 1969, when I watched ghostly figures bounce down the LEM stairs, me trying hard to stay awake, witness to history in a family-vacation hotel room near Hilton Head’s Forest Beach beach.

We don’t swim much at any time of the year in the ocean off the Sonoma County coast, too cold and too rough, so the warm and moderately playful Atlantic Sunday afternoon is just the ticket for a thirty minute body surfing session, followed by the Hilton Head Workshop Welcoming Reception.  There’s a breeze off the ocean in the big open pavilion (the pavilion where we will have many additional pleasant meals), and light pants with a Hawaiian shirt (H-H Workshop FAQ:  “Some folks wear tasteful shorts and a polo shirt, while others wear khakis and a casual dress shirt. Ties and sport coats are not as common.”) make perfect sense.  Many friends and colleagues seem to think so too.

Ghost crabs roam the beach, once the reception closes down, as we begin to call it a night.  Ragged scuttling claws retreating before the advance of hissing foamy seas.

Monday morning bright and early the 380+ of us (62% from Academia, 28% from Industry, Government holding up the other 9% or so) have the significant pleasure of listening to Dr. Franz Laermer (Robert Bosch GmbH) tell us about “Bosch DRIE Shaping MEMS – History, Applications, and Future Directions.” Dr. Laermer talks about his missed wake-up call, bad dreams about “Black Wax” (pattern mask for an early silicon etch process based on KOH or HF/HNO3 wet chemistries), how easy the DRAM trench capacitor guys have it over the MEMS team because DRAM only has to replicate one kind of deep silicon structure on the processed wafer (albeit a hundred billion times, all perfectly), and he talks about his early pride in the home-built microwave plasma system used for the original Bosch Process processing work.

Fade forward many years with Dr. Laermer to the commercial DRIE tool landscape of today, made possible by Bosch’s (wise) decision to license their silicon DRIE process technology to any-and-all semiconductor capital equipment suppliers, rather than hold on to the technology, and etch process IP,  themselves.

(I am reminded later about the silicon DRIE tool market by the sight of two green frogs of different species outside the hotel doors tonight, each frog competing for an evening meal under the same pool of light.  They both looked well-fed.  The Rule of Two?)

The world needs cheap consumer MEMS microphones and gyros, says Dr. Laermer, and it’s silicon DRIE that drives these applications.  There’s an excellent CGI movie goes along with this, a plucky little car on an uneven road with a MEMS gyro whirring away inside, until a big truck comes from the wrong direction, causing the car to tumble, the gyro to move out of plane, and the airbags to deploy as car, passengers, and gyro all come to a safe rest.  (We never see what happens to the truck.)  Amazing stuff.  Which I am glad to know is there, on guard, in my little VW, and which I myself hope never to engage.

Hearing Dr. Laermer speak today, and talking with him later at this great Hilton Head Workshop, is one of those moments for which we live, a thrill I will be happy to remember in years to come, just like I happily remember events of a summer long ago when, with one small step of a man, mankind took its giant leap.  What was it we talked about at METRIC 2010?  Punctuated equilibrium?   That’s surely as true of the Bosch process age of MEMS fabrication being a new evolutionary path from the KOH / Black Wax days of yore as it was when Neil Armstrong dropped a final rung to the dusty lunar surface, setting foot on another world, 1969, with our blue home planet serving as both backdrop, reference, and stepping stone, to Jupiter and beyond.

From Hilton Head, South Carolina, thanks for reading.

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