Some guys get jazzed about sports or cars. Not Tan Ha. His passion
is vacuum equipment.
"It's incredible how the equipment can look so beautiful,
how it all fits together," says Ha, who also delights in
leafing through catalogues of fittings, nuts and valves. "I
can think of five or six ways to plumb a vacuum system to make
These passions serve Ha well in his job in the Quantum Science
Research group, where his task is to deliver the tools (vacuum
equipment and all) his colleagues need to develop and fabricate
the nano-scale computers that are the basis of their research.
Their aim: to push advances in future computer technology beyond
the limits of silicon.
Ha's function is two-fold. Besides ensuring that equipment like
the e-beam evaporator, chemical vapor deposition reactor and reactive
ion etcher are in working order, Ha develops new tools or modifies
existing ones. All of this equipment is used to deposit thin film
materials (such as aluminum or silicon oxide) and create patterns
for nano-device fabrication.
That's not as straightforward as it may seem, because much of
what the researchers are doing has never been done before.
"Standard equipment won't do it, because what we're doing
isn't standard in the semiconductor industry," says Ha. "It's
an adrenaline rush every day."
While attending school and working part-time, he taught himself
the language by reading the dictionary and listening to the news.
Ha put himself through college at the University of California
at Berkeley, studying engineering because of the opportunities
"Before I came to this country my dad told me to study hard
and get a job so I could send money home to support my brothers
and sisters," Ha recalls. "I decided on engineering
because I knew I had to be able to get a job."
Ha joined HP Labs in 1992 and signed on with the Quantum Science
Research (QSR) group two-and-a-half years ago.
"He has the most cheerful personality and positive demeanor
of anyone I know," says Stan Williams, HP Fellow and director
of QSR. "No matter what bad things happen in the lab, he
has seen much worse, so he brings a special perspective to our
As for Ha, he says he can't think of any other time in his life
that has been more exciting.
"Everyone on the team feels the level of importance of what
we're doing right now, not just for HP," he says. "This
is not just a technology. It's a whole revolution."