Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering Division

2004 ACS Applied Polymer Science Award in Honor of C. Grant Willson

Carlton Grant Willson, Winner of the 2004 ACS Award in Applied Polymer Science, is cited “for his seminal contributions to the fundamental discovery, development, and commercialization of the functional polymer systems used as resists in microelectronics”.

Since joining the Research Division of IBM in the late 1970's Grant Willson has had an indelible impact on the field of polymers for microelectronics. This award recognizes his seminal contributions to the field of applied polymer science in the last dozen years, with numerous new polymer systems invented, developed, and commercialized within that period of time.

His contributions to the fundamental understanding of the chemistry of polymer systems used as photoresists are matched by the practical applications that they have sprouted.  When Willson started in the field of photopolymers and resist chemistry, the dominant technology was based on discoveries that were already about forty years old resulting from the work of Otto Suess in Germany with the photochemistry of diazonaphthoquinones. While photopolymers based on novolac-diazonaphthoquinones have remained the workhorses of the microelectronics industry for many years, our Society's appetite for faster and more sophisticated computers required that a totally new principle of high-resolution imaging be developed.  Starting in 1979, Grant Willson, in collaboration with Jean Fréchet and later Hiroshi Ito, made the fundamental discoveries that became known as the concept of chemical amplification in resist chemistry.  This radically new approach to imaging, based on a deep mechanistic understanding of the chemistry of these materials, ensures that the information carried by only a few photons is transferred to the surface of a large
silicon wafer allowing the patterning of millions of transistors in a very short time. While commercialization was initially restricted to IBM's own use, in the early 1990's Willson was instrumental in IBM’s decision to license this and related resist technologies broadly, leading to the appearance of a plethora of new polymer resists based on Willson's concepts, thereby further contributing to the fast development of the field. 

The continuous string of innovations that have come from Willson's laboratories at IBM-Almaden and UT-Austin in the past two decades have been directly responsible for the rapid development of advanced microprocessors, memory chips, and storage devices, affording computers with higher and higher performance. It is clear that without Willson's new materials, Moore's law could not have been followed and that today's most advanced polymer resists can all be traced to Willson's tireless work throughout the 1990's.

In the early 1990's, in his role as an IBM Fellow and the highest level scientist-manager for polymer science at IBM-Almaden Research Laboratory, Willson spearheaded much fundamental work in the area of liquid crystalline polymers, materials for non-linear optics, specialized ceramics, electronic-grade dielectrics, chip packaging materials, new materials for optical and magnetic data storage, ink and toners for high resolution printing, etc.

In every case Willson's contributions included strong intellectual input, key experimental findings, and very importantly, the provision of an incredibly fertile R&D environment with resources to match the quality of the projects.  Willson, following on the footsteps of Jim Economy, had then built a research organization that afforded IBM the best overall polymer R&D "department" in the world.  Amazingly, given the business difficulties IBM encountered a decade ago, these investments in world-class science under a world-class leader, have paid-off helping IBM maintain and frequently extend its technical leadership in several key area of the microelectronics field. 

Since his move to his present position at the University of Texas, Grant Willson has built what is doubtless the best polymer resist research laboratory in the US.  His recently developed 193nm resists based on cycloaliphatic functional polymers and copolymers of norbornene represent the state of the art in the materials that will fuel the Industry in the early part of the 21st Century.

Yet another innovation of great significance that is undergoing development at UT Austin, SEMATECH, and a start-up Company Molecular Imprints Inc., is that of "step and Flash lithography". This remarkable photopolymerization process provides access to the rapid manufacture of objects normally produced by microlithography using a technique somewhat akin to embossing, with a 3D master plate used to reproduce a three dimensional object that can then undergo standard processing such as etching.  Numerous applications in microelectronic devices displays, CCD's, micromachines, can be implemented using this remarkably simple and elegant approach currently being commercialized by Molecular Imprints Inc., a company co-founded by Willson who still acts as its Technical Advisory Board Chair.

It is clear that Willson's early success with chemically amplified resists was only the tip of the iceberg; his contributions in the area of polymers for microelectronics transcend many generations and types of microelectronic devices and systems.  The constant inventiveness coupled with the keen eye for development that Willson has demonstrated make him an ideal recipient for this award in APPLIED polymer science.

Grant Willson obtained his Ph.D. at the University of California Berkeley, he is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a PMSE Fellow, and the recipient of numerous awards including the PMSE Doolittle Award, the ACS Award in the Chemistry of Materials, the Carothers Awards,  the ACS Cooperative Research Award in Polymer Science and Engineering, the SRC Technical Excellence Award and the SRC Aristotle Award , the Malcolm E. Pruitt Award, and the National Academy of Sciences Award for Chemistry in Service to Society.


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