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Oral-History:Theodore Van Duzer (1991)

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About Theodore Van Duzer

Theodore Van Duzer received the Ph.D. degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1960. In 1961, he joined the faculty of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, University of California, Berkeley. He was co-author of two textbooks, Principles of Superconductive Devices and Circuits and Fields and Waves in Communication Electronics, and published widely in the research literature on superconductor electronics. He also researched Josephson devices and multigigahertz digital superconductor circuits, including hybrids with cryogenic semiconductor components. Dr. Van Duzer was a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering. The IEEE's Van Duzer Prize for papers on superconductivity was created in his honor.

The interview focuses on National Science Foundation funding he has received. He describes his early research in Josephson devices as well as more recent superconductor research. He discusses the relationship between basic researchers and system designers. He assesses the impact of the NSF and other sources of funding, including the Department of Defense. Finally, he cites the shortcomings of funding conferences with NSF money and the variability of knowledge among NSF program officers.


About the Interview

THEODORE (TED) VAN DUZER: An Interview Conducted by William Aspray, IEEE History Center, August 6, 1991

Interview #126 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, Rutgers - the State University, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Theodore Van Duzer, an oral history conducted in 1991 by William Aspray, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.


Interview

INTERVIEW: Dr. Theodore (Ted) Van Druzer
INTERVIEWER: William Aspray
DATE: August 6, 1991
PLACE: Telephone Interview

Superconductor Work Supported by NSF

Aspray:

Could you tell me how long it has been that you have been getting support from the National Science Foundation?

Van Duzer:

I have not for the last couple of years. My last grant ran out I think at the end of 1988. But prior to that, I do not really have a record of all the contracts or grants that I had received from them, so I am afraid I cannot answer that exactly.

Aspray:

Okay, but approximately?

Van Duzer:

It has been 30 years [inaudible phrase], so you can imagine in your own experience trying to remember back even 20 years.

Aspray:

Can you tell me some of the work that has been supported by the foundation that you did?

Van Duzer:

It has been essentially all device oriented. A little bit of circuit work. The most recent things were on high-Tc and on semiconductor barrier devices. So they are all superconductor or device oriented.

Aspray:

Why is this research important?

Van Duzer:

We think that superconducting devices are the technology of the future, that they have capabilities that exceed what semiconductor devices can do.

Aspray:

What would they enable?

Van Duzer:

Higher speed circuit performance.

Aspray:

By what kind of factor are you shooting for?

Van Duzer:

You shoot for whatever you can get. It is very complicated. Something of the order of ten times faster than existing semiconductor devices. You take a chain of logic gates for instance and the speed of the logic gate will be something on the order of ten times faster than the semiconductor circuits. You can take an individual semiconductor circuit and drive it very hard with a lot of power and you can make it fast too, so you cut down that margin. But in the normal way of operating it is towards ten times faster.

Aspray:

Is your work in circuits and devices primarily intended to drive development in computing, or are you looking for a wide variety of applications for these?

Van Duzer:

Well, it’s digital, which can be computing but can also be what is referred to as signal processing. There are certain kinds of digital systems that are organized in such a way, organized for processing of signals, and it is a little different type of architecture than computer architecture. Some of the things that we work on look like they are better suited for the processing of signals than for general purpose computers.

Goals of Research

Aspray:

Are your goals driven by possibilities in the technology or demands from the application sides?

Van Duzer:

I am not sure what the difference would be.

Aspray:

One might have a goal of a particular kind of switching device that has a certain kind of speed or uses a certain kind of technology because there seem to be prospects in the technology, whereas if it were driven from outside need it might be that the designers of some particular kind of computing equipment needed a improvement of speed of X, 40 per cent or something, and that they came to you to look for that. I am not sure

Van Duzer:

It does not work that way actually. Systems people have some tests to do, and they figure out how to do it with existing technology. If you come to them and tell them you can do something ten times faster, they do not know what to do with it, first of all. If you tell them you can do it two times faster, they can probably figure out how to use it. But I have never had the experience, and I think this is generally true, of systems people going to the device people and saying, “Please invent the whatchamacallit as good as it gets! Because I would like to do this faster.” There are people in the government, particularly, who want high definition television, or they want to get more communication signals over optical fiber, or faster military electronics. So there are people at some level who are looking for better performance. Some of the funders think that if they have better performance they can either beat the enemy or have a better product or something. The actual people who design systems, intermediate-level people, do not usually come to the device people. The way it seems to work is that you do device work with some probably not very good idea of systems applications, because you are not a systems person. You do device development with somewhat vague ideas of how these will be used. Then you publish it, and later the systems people somehow find your reports of new things and begin to try to figure out how they can incorporate them. It is not that people come to us.

Josephson Devices & Etch Pits

Aspray:

Can you tell me about some of the work you did with the NSF support, prior to the work that you have mentioned in the most recent years. What projects did you work on in the 1960s and 1970s?

Van Duzer:

We had a mixture of funding, so it is a little hard to be sure that I am separating the different sources out. We worked on devices, again Josephson devices. I have been working in superconductor devices since the late 1960s, so most everything I am saying is about superconductor devices. We were working on superconductor devices with low temperature superconductors. In one particular kind, we used crystalline silicon as a way of coupling between one superconductor and another, which is basically what a Josephson junction is. It is the active device in superconductive electronics. The way a Josephson junction is made is that you have some sort of a weak coupling between two superconductive films. But strong enough so that the quantum mechanical wave functions from one superconductor can overlap the wave function from the other superconductor and interact. And that is what leads to the Josephson effect. We were using heavily doped crystalline silicon for that.

Aspray:

And how did that work evolve over time?

Van Duzer:

We started out with making an etch pit, etching a hole in the semiconductor, in the silicon wafer. An etch pit sounds rather crude, but this was actually a very nice flat floor in the pit. We made a very thin membrane, at one side of the silicon wafer so that it was on the order of between 500 and 1000 angstroms thick. Then we put superconducting films on both sides of that and showed that that was, in fact, Josephson coupling and then did all the appropriate tests. Later we made the same kind of device on one side of the wafer. We put down a strip of superconductor and cut a narrow gap in it so that the electron pairs had to go down through the silicon 2nd, then up into the other piece of the superconductor film. So we had those two different types of structures.

Other Funding Sources & Researchers

Aspray:

You mentioned earlier that you had more than one source of funding. Who else was providing funding to your laboratory?

Van Duzer:

The Department of Defense.

Aspray:

Was it Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency money or was it other DOD agencies?

Van Duzer:

It was not DARPA. I have some DARPA money now, but in the past it has not been. They have the Army, the Office of Naval Research, and the Air Force. Over the years I have had all those.

Aspray:

Were there other groups working on these same problems that you were working on?

Van Duzer:

There were people working on other types of Josephson devices. The particular ones that I just described, nobody else did that before we did it, or at the same time we did it, but other people have followed it up since then.

Success of Research Program

Aspray:

How would you evaluate the success of your research program?

Van Duzer:

We made devices that were unique and led to enough interest that other people have followed it up. I guess it was successful. This field has not been such that device work, nor the circuit work, has actually led to things being incorporated in practical systems, largely because of the need to refrigerate. We think it is going to come to that, but it is still not there.

Aspray:

Will their employment in these systems be the way of judging the success or failure over the long run of your program?

Van Duzer:

I guess that depends on who is judging.

Impact of NSF Support

Aspray:

Have you had other kind of support from NSF? Have your students had fellowships or traineeships? Have you had money for conferences, that sort of thing?

Van Duzer:

I am not positive about whether any of my students have had fellowships. I think not. And I have not had any conference support.

Aspray:

Have you had other interactions with the NSF staff?

Van Duzer:

One of my colleagues here was a temporary person on the staff there, but I would say no.

Aspray:

Could you extrapolate from your experience and give me some assessment, however strong or weakly or confident you feel about this, about the NSF’s role in circuit and device area? Have they had a major impact? Have they had very little impact? What is your impression?

Van Duzer:

I think that in the superconductor area DOD has had a much bigger impact. Are you talking specifically about superconductor?

Aspray:

Any of the areas.

Van Duzer:

That is really all I know about.

Aspray:

Then that is what I really want to know about. And why did DOD have a much bigger impact? Is it because DOD simply had more money to put into the program?

Van Duzer:

I guess so, yes. To some extent it depends on individuals, and there have been some individuals in DOD who felt that superconductor is an important area, and so they pushed for it. The NSF has not been like that. There may be since ITC [spelling?] something in superconductive materials, but in the past there has not been and branch that is specifically dedicated to superconductor.

Aspray:

No special programs or no special initiatives.

Van Duzer:

Right.

NSF Conference Funding

Aspray:

Are there other things that you would like to add about federal support in your area of specialty that might inform our study?

Van Duzer:

I do not know that I can add more much to what I just said. You mentioned conferences, and I have to say if you are looking for feedback my one experience with trying to set up a conference through the NSF, it was really pretty dismal.

Aspray:

Why was that?

Van Duzer:

In order to even make the application you essentially have to have the conference completely designed, including having agreement by the speakers to actually attend. You can go to quite a lot of effort in doing that, a certain amount of embarrassment inviting people, only to find out that the NSF is not going to come up with the $10,000 that you were asking for to set up the conference. I went through that once, and I have heard of other people that have gone through similar things. I decided that, all you have to do have to do is set a registration fee. Forget this sponsorship. And I have been running a number of conferences since then, and very successfully. I would never advise anybody to go to the NSF to get money for a conference. It is a lot of work, potentially a failure, and somewhat pointless. But the research support has been fine. The reporting requirements are reasonable, the peer evaluations that they get, I have no complaints about. They have been helpful with comments and so on.

Aspray:

Are the program officers in your area generally knowledgeable.

Van Duzer:

They change. If you get a 3-year grant, you are likely to only encounter one, because they rotate. It has been a mixed bag. Some of them are knowledgeable and some are not. It is a fairly narrow subject that not everybody knows much about, so it is not unreasonable that they would not be well trained in that area.

Aspray:

Thank you very much.

Van Duzer:

You are welcome.

Aspray:

Goodbye.

Van Duzer:

Bye.