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This is not just a technology. It's a whole revolution.

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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 it work."

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."

Tan Ha

Charting new territory is nothing new for Ha. He and two sisters fled Vietnam by boat in 1980, leaving behind their parents and six brothers and sisters. When Ha settled in California, he was 16 and spoke no English.

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 it offered.

"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 work."

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."

About Tan

Education: BS, Chemical Engineering University of California at Berkeley; MS, Chemistry, California State University - Hayward
Native country: Vietnam
Joined HP Labs: October 1992
Hobbies: Following World economy and politics
Biggest influence: My parents (and now my three kids and wife)

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