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Doug Ohlberg

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We're continually debating different interpretations of what we’re seeing - sort of creating reality.

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Doug Ohlberg has worked in the oil fields of Alaska. He has picked peaches and plums and figs in California's Central Valley. He can identify birds and plants and stars, and he's studied geology, astronomy, ornithology and anthropology with the California Academy of Sciences.

He's also a highly competent chemist who has managed to make films of uniformly close-packed molecules with extremely low defect densities. These films, layers one molecule thick, are sandwiched between metal electrodes and act as switchable conduits through which electricity passes, providing the basis for molecular memory devices that switch between off and on states.

"It's crucial that the film doesn't have any holes or defects, or the device will short circuit," he says. "The molecules have to be packed cheek by jowl with each other. The challenge is to adjust conditions so that they do that."

In some ways, Ohlberg says, what he's doing is a variation of an experiment Benjamin Franklin conducted more than two centuries ago. The scientist-inventor-statesman-publisher placed a teaspoon of oil on a pond on a windy day and watched how it quickly spread over a half-acre and stilled the waves. (This was the first experiment from which molecular dimensions could be determined).

Similarly, Ohlberg is working with molecules that don't mix with water, adding enough in a controlled way so that when they spread out, the film they form is only one molecule thick.

"One thing about doing this job is looking at things you can't really perceive with your senses," he says. "We're continually debating different interpretations of what we're seeing -- sort of creating reality."

Ohlberg is sure to spend much of his spare time well grounded in reality. Besides his extensive studies with the California Academy of Sciences, he is a passionate hiker and amateur botanist, studying flower structures, textures, smells and other characteristics of plants in order to identify them.

That process, he says, "makes you really look at something and become aware of it. There are all these little parallel worlds going on simultaneously, and most of the time we're oblivious to them."

Ohlberg was one of the early members of the Quantum Science Research group (which encompasses the team that created the recent molecular memory and logic device). He joined the group in 1996, when it was just five strong and had just embarked on its research into extending computer technology beyond the limits of silicon.

Doug Ohlberg

"Working in this group is a lot like grad school," he says. "You have the freedom to pursue long shots. It's really refreshing to be able to do that."

About Doug

Education: MS Chemistry, UCLA
Native country: United States
Joined HP Labs: February 1996
Hobbies: See above
Biggest influence: Darwin and Goethe

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