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Alumnus, Trustee Chris Mack Rides Innovative Wave through Lithography
August 16, 2013
|Chris Mack PhD
Leading expert on next-generation lithography, Rose-Hulman trustee and 1982 alumnus.
You can make some important observations about innovation without even leaving the kitchen. “My dishwasher has more computing power than existed in the world in 1950,” observes Rose-Hulman alumnus Chris A. Mack. The same goes for his toaster, which is also controlled by semiconductors.
“I don’t know why a toaster needs any semiconductor chips, but it has two,” he says.
Actually, Mack knows the answer. It’s because the technology is cheaper and more effective, and a great example of Moore’s Law: The number of transistors placed within integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years.
As a leading expert on lithography, Mack has a strong connection with technical innovation. “Moore’s Law is driven by technology advances, the most important being in the area of lithography, which shrinks the circuitry.”
Lithography was far from Mack’s career focus when he arrived at Rose-Hulman from his Texas home. He ended up becoming the first student to earn four academic degrees: physics, chemistry, electrical engineering, and chemical engineering. “I did not have a career path in mind. One reason I got four degrees is that I couldn’t decide. They were all fun, and I didn’t want to choose between them, so I kept going.”
He finally graduated in 1982, and began working at the National Security Agency’s Microelectronics Research Laboratory. His first assignment was opening a box filled with technology related to lithography and semiconductor manufacturing. “I was told to set up what was inside,” he says.
Therefore, his career took shape, almost by accident.
Mack earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland in 1989, and the next year founded FINLE Technologies to provide lithography modeling software for the semiconductor industry. During the next decade, he earned a doctorate in chemical engineering from the University of Texas, and KLA-Tencor acquired FINLE in 2000. He became the company’s vice president of lithography technology.
Family became a priority in 2005, and Mack retired from corporate America. Today, he teaches part-time at the University of Texas, does consulting work, is a Visiting Erskine Fellow at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, contributes to Rose-Hulman’s Board of Trustees, and writes, with a book on lithography being one of his proudest achievements. “I pursue my own interests without worrying too much about the need to make money, and somehow I end up making money,” he says.
For 15 years, Mack wrote the quarterly column, The Lithography Tutor, in Microlithography World magazine, and further background on his career can be found on his Gentleman Scientist website, www.lithoguru.com.
Looking back, Mack observes that “my four degrees were a perfect match for my lithography career. My Rose-Hulman education prepared me to take advantage of opportunities that came my way.”