Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering

2020 Draper Prize Acceptance Speech

Draper Prize Acceptance Speech

C. Grant Willson

The organizers of this wonderful event told Jean and me that only one of us could speak because of time limitations. Jean flipped a coin and I won—or maybe I lost. Anyhow, I was chosen by chance.

Sharing the Charles Draper Prize with Professor Fréchet is a huge and unexpected honor. This award is known throughout the world as the Nobel Prize for Engineers. The list of previous winners certainly includes many of the most famous engineers and scientists we have known since its inception and it is hard to imagine that we might be included in such a list. It is also humbling to know that there are so many friends out there who were willing to devote time and energy to the myriad nomination forms and support letters, etc. that had to have been generated in our behalf. We offer our most sincere thanks to those people. We also thank the members of the committee that analyzed these documents and ultimately chose to honor Professor Fréchet and me. We offer special thanks to Janet and Debbie, our wonderful wives, and to our sons for their tolerance of the long days and many absences from home that were required to do the work that is being honored.

The work that led to the discovery that is being honored was inspired by a need to continue improving the function and reducing the cost of IBM’s semiconductor products. In the early 1980s IBM was manufacturing more semiconductor devices than anyone in the world and we were dedicated to keeping up with “Moore’s Law,” which predicts a doubling of the number of devices on each chip every two years. This was always accomplished by finding some way to make the individual devices smaller and smaller. The rate of that device shrinking was sustained for several decades and led to the increase in performance and reduction in price that was responsible for the rapidly growing influence of computers in everyday life.

In the early 1980s, we were stuck. Further shrinking of the devices demanded printing with shorter-wavelength ultraviolet light. The light sources that were available did not produce much light at the shorter wavelength, so efficient printing required materials that were orders of magnitude more sensitive and supported higher-resolution patterning than any that were available. Luckily, at that time Professor Fréchet, who was then at the University of Ottawa, chose to come to the IBM Research Laboratory for a sabbatical leave. We started a collaboration and a friendship that has lasted over 40 years and produced more than 50 joint papers and patents. Jean and his family are very close friends and he is the godfather of my youngest son, Andrew, who is with us tonight.

When Jean arrived at IBM we discussed the fact that the industry was stuck for want of a new imaging material and out of those discussions came the original design for the acid-catalyzed or “chemically amplified” resists. We explored several polymer platforms for such systems and managed to demonstrate the concept before Jean returned to Ottawa, where he continued to work with me from a distance. In order to make faster progress in his absence, I sought out and hired a terrific postdoctoral student from the same group where Jean earned his PhD, that of Prof. Conrad Schuerch. This student’s name was Hiroshi Ito. Hiroshi was an incredibly productive and clever chemist and the collaboration of the three of us made rapid progress.

In 1985 we sent the first liter of chemically amplified resist to Burlington, Vermont, for evaluation in manufacturing and it was quickly implemented. Standing in the clean room at Burlington and watching huge numbers of parts being manufactured with our new material and knowing that this material enabled IBM to lead the world in chip production was a thrill that is difficult to describe and one that I will surely never forget.

The basic design of the resists that are in use to make all the advanced devices in the world today is derived from that early work. Of course, the materials have evolved and improved tremendously, in significant part due to the work of Dr. Ito, who became a permanent employee of IBM and worked on these materials for his entire career. He was ultimately appointed an IBM Fellow in recognition of his accomplishments. Sadly, we lost Dr. Ito in 2009, but the legacy of his effort remains. I feel sure that if he was still with us, he would have been included in this award.

Jean and I both will treasure the Draper Prize. It will continuously remind us how lucky we were to be able to work in laboratories as efficient and well equipped as those provided by IBM. It will also remind me how lucky I was to get to work with people as wonderful as Jean and Hiroshi. I am a very lucky and very grateful man! I know that Jean is too. Thank you!