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Micro-e excellence links Photronics and RIT

Tiny integrated circuits drive today’s technology, forming the basis of countless devices ranging from personal computers to cell phones to TV remote controls.

Among the many RIT grads who work at Photronics Inc. is this group at the company’s Allen, Texas facility. From left are Terry Kibler ’80, Eric Poortinga ’02, Mike Cangemi ’98, Dave Mofett ’77, Matt Lassiter ’00, Steve Carlson ’88 and ’90, Marc Cangemi ’03 and Bryan Kasprowicz ’96.

“Chips are in everything,” says Steve Carlson ’88 (microelectronic engineering) and ’90 (M.S., imaging science), senior vice president for research and development for Photronics Inc. The company is the world leader in the design, development and production of photomasks, a key element in the manufacture of semiconductor and microelectronic components. Photronics, which reported sales of $91.5 million for the fourth quarter of fiscal 2003, is a public company listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange (PLAB).

Photomasks, produced through a printing process called microlithography, are high-precision quartz plates that contain microscopic images of electronic circuits. The masks are used to transfer the circuit patterns onto the silicon layers that make up a chip. Chips vary in complexity, but a typical computer microprocessor requires 30 to 40 different masks each costing as much as $150,000.

“It’s really fascinating,” says Carlson, noting that the ability to create increasingly intricate photomasks has become the most critical step in the process of manufacturing smaller and more powerful microprocessors and other components. Carlson was drawn to microlithography “because it seemed like the most complex and least understood” part of the process of producing microelectronic components.

“What has happened is microlithography has become the gating mechanism for the mythical Moore’s Law,” says Carlson, referring to the 1965 prediction by Gordon Moore of Intel stating that the transistor density on integrated circuits would double every couple of years, resulting in increased performance and decreased cost. To date, that law has not been broken, thanks to the efforts of engineers and scientists – RIT grads included.

Carlson, who joined Photronics five years ago, is one of many RIT alumni working for the company.

“Two things make RIT grads especially attractive,” says Carlson, who was named Distinguished Alumnus of the Kate Gleason College of Engineering in 1999. “Through the micro-e lab, students gain exposure to directly relevant projects. And in the co-op program, they get real work experience. It gives them a great head start.”

Photronics, whose customers include companies such as IBM, Intel, Texas Instruments and Samsung, has manufacturing facilities in Asia, Europe and North America. Currently, In addition to the many RIT grads in full-time jobs, the company typically employs six co-ops each quarter at the Allen, Texas, Austin, Texas or Brookfield, Conn., facilities.

RIT graduates currently working at Allen, Texas, include Carlson; Development Engineers Marc Cangemi ’03 (microelectronic engineering), Mike Cangemi ’98 (micro-e), Bryan Kasprowicz ’96 (micro-e) and Matt Lassiter ’00 (micro-e); Human Resources Manager Terry Kibler ’80 (business administration); Quality Assurance Manager Dave Moffett ’77 (imaging science); and Manufacturing Engineer Mohammed Razzak ’96 (microelectronic manufacturing engineering). Alumni employed at the Austin site include Ben Eynon ’87 (micro-e), director advanced process development; Development Engineers Eric Poortinga ’02 (micro-e) and Tejas Javeri ’03 (micro-e); and Manufacturing Engineers Matt Malloy ’03 (micro-e) and Matt Shepard ’03 (micro-e). Alums at the Brookfield facility include Christopher Goetz ’88 (imaging science), director of corporate quality, and Julio Bonilla ’96 (micro-e), quality engineer.

Photronics has other important ties to RIT. The company has initiated some joint R&D work with RIT, provided guidance on student projects and donated a MEBES III e-beam tool and other equipment and materials to RIT’s microelectronic engineering program. The company was formally recognized as an Industrial Affiliate of the Microelectronic Engineering program in 2000.

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