Hong Shih Takes Pride in Designing ‘Advanced Dishwashers’
Photo of Hong Shih with arms raised
Apr 5, 2023
  • Hong Shih is one of 10 employees within the company who has been elevated to Lam Fellow    
  • He has more than 40 years of experience in sciences and engineering with over 30 years working in the semiconductor industry  

Hong Shih was named a Lam Research Fellow in 2014 for his substantial technical contributions to etch engineering. His work in precision wet cleaning has driven solutions that have allowed our customers to scale to smaller process nodes.  

I caught up with Hong to talk about his career, his work on Lam’s ‘advanced dishwasher,’ and his sleepless nights as a new engineer in the industry. (He once didn’t sleep for three days straight at a customer site!) 

Tell me about your journey to become a technologist.  

When I was young, I had a dream to work in science and technology. My uncle was a professor of chemical engineering, which may have influenced my decision to study chemistry at Peking University. I received my master’s degree in electrochemistry and took an exam to further my studies. I was among 54 graduate students at my university who took the exam, with a select six being able to apply to study outside the country. I got the highest score.

I had the opportunity to study metallurgy at Penn State University for my Ph.D. – it was the first university that accepted me and I immediately made the decision to go. My Ph.D. advisor, H.W. Pickering, had very high standards and I worked very hard – I was in the lab until 3 a.m. for four and half years. I then became a post-doc fellow at the University of Southern California (USC) completing 23 research projects successfully in four years.  

When I joined the semiconductor industry, I had zero background in the field. Everything was totally new to me. The only thing I could do was work extremely hard – I recall spending 16 hours a day for the first eight years of my career at the office.  

42 years in and I still have the same motivation that I did at Penn State University. 

What are you working on now?  

When I came to Lam, the company didn’t have a program dedicated to the precision cleaning of parts. Used parts would be thrown away – we were burning money! Since 2002, with strong support from Rick Gottscho, my focus has been on improving etch productivity through precision wet cleaning and chamber materials. Think of precision wet cleaning as a very advanced dishwasher. (laughter) 

What we do is nearly impossible. A customer had requested that we control the number of particles on the wafer to five or less with a size of 13nm. To provide some sense of scale, that means that across a 300mm wafer, we could only allow for 5 particles, miniature pieces of unwanted material, with sizes that are nearly 7,600 times smaller than the width of a human hair.  

You’ve been working in precision wet cleaning for 20 years. Is there any memorable challenge that comes to mind?  

After starting the precision wet cleaning program, we faced a big challenge in 2008 for the 28nm technology node. Suddenly, the best-known methods were no longer good enough to solve customer defects and particle issues. We faced similar challenges again at the 7nm node. I spent almost six years with my team collaborating with the Etch Product Group and the customer to find a solution, traveling to the customer site six times a year.  

Precision wet cleaning is an enabling technology that has allowed the industry to scale to smaller process nodes and Lam’s technology in this space is a differentiator among our competitors. 

You have published 128 technical papers and have been awarded more than 80 U.S. patents. As you look back on your four-decade-long career, is there an achievement that sticks out to you?  

I never thought this would be possible. All these successes are a team effort – I’m just part of the team. We’re making the impossible possible – together.  

I want to thank Lam’s leadership. From the very beginning of my career at Lam, I received tremendous support from Rick Gottscho and I learned a lot from him. I also have learned a lot from Vahid Vahedi, Harmeet Singh, and my manager, John Daugherty. There are so many talented people here working together and I have been lucky to be part of Lam for the past 20 years.  

What has been the most important learning that has contributed to your success?  

I can’t say that I’m successful – there’s still a long way to go and a lot to learn. But here’s what I’ve learned:  

  1. I appreciate my time as an engineer and the opportunity to work in the sciences and engineering. 
  2. I have continued to keep a strong interest and motivation in my work. 
  3. Details define success.  
  4. Respect your colleagues. We succeed together.  
  5. Always learn from others. 
  6. Break down the problem into its simplest form. And look to see if the solution can be used in customer production.  
  7. Focus on one project. At any given time, I will only be working on one major task.  

What advice would you give to new engineers entering the industry?  

Appreciate the opportunity to be an engineer. Learn from your work and continue to accumulate knowledge every day. We are in an equal position.