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Hylke Wiersma


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The scientists come up with the idea, and I give it form and shape.

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Hylke Wiersma had never heard of Hewlett-Packard when he moved to the United States in 1958. He and his wife had just emigrated from The Netherlands, arriving with two suitcases and a few dollars, and the HP job application puzzled him, asking him to choose among working days, evenings or the graveyard shift.

"I knew what a graveyard was, but I could not understand what an electronics business had to do with the cemetery," he says. "I played it safe and chose the day shift, and 10 days later I was put on the payroll."

Forty-four years later, he is again at HP, this time in HP Quantum Science Research group. Wiersma had retired in 1998, only to return 18 months later to design and build the imprinting machine, an elegant silver device used in the process of making nanowires. Nothing quite like it exists on the market.

"HP's instruments have the reputation of being made to last," says Yong Chen, research lead on the project to build computer memory devices out of molecules. "When Hylke designed and fabricated this machine, I could feel that spirit. If one tiny thing didn't work right, he pushed it and changed it and couldn't sleep right until it was perfect."

Wiersma seemed destined to go into electronics from the start. As a small boy, he preferred his blocks and erector set to sports. While his father served in the Dutch army, he repaired the electrical plug of his mother's vacuum cleaner.

Hylke Wiersma

Wiersma was eight years old when the Nazi armies invaded The Netherlands. During the winter of 1944 when there was no electricity or gas, he rigged a six-volt bicycle generator to his mother's foot-powered sewing machine to provide light for reading.

"My brothers and I took turns making the sewing machine generator go. It also kept us a little warmer," he recalls.

After the war, Wiersma began tinkering with radios (radios were forbidden under the Germans) amplifiers, old phonographs and excess army equipment. After completing school, he went to work for Philips Electronics, testing radio receivers for quality.

Wiersma and his wife decided to emigrate for two reasons: a severe housing shortage and the rain. "I remember the day I decided to go - it was pouring, of course," he says.

When Wierma joined HP in 1958, the company had less than 1,800 employees and he was paid $1.50 an hour, plus a production bonus. In the first years, he worked on test equipment for oscilloscopes, which HP had introduced only two years earlier. The instruments show variations in a fluctuating electrical quantity as wave forms that are visible on a screen.

In 1973, he joined HP Labs, where for the next 25 years he did what he does best -- helping to make scientists' visions real.

"They come up with the idea, and I give it form and shape," Wiersma says.

About Hylke

Education: College
Native country: The Netherlands
Joined HP: 1958
Hobbies: Biking.
Biggest influence: My 3 children and 5 grandchildren.


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