Keren Kanarik to Extend Lam’s Influence Across Semi Industry
Jun 6, 2024
  • Her expertise in physical chemistry, process engineering, and business strategy help shape our industry 
  • A new appointment on a prestigious committee extends Lam’s influence 

Keren Kanarik, technical managing director, Office of the CTO, was recently appointed to represent Lam Research on the Industry Strategy Symposium (ISS) planning committee. SEMI, the association that hosts this symposium, brings together industry leaders to discuss and provide a forum to share ideas about the future of semiconductor development and application roadmap. 

“Companies that design and manufacture chips are well understood by the broader industry,” Keren says. “My role is to bring perspective on the equipment and process engineering that enable making these chips, since manufacturing chips would not be possible without innovations in etching and deposition.” 

Prolific Inventor   

A California native, Keren grew up in a family with a strong STEM background. Her father was a theoretical physicist, and her uncle and cousins are professors of physical chemistry and computer science. Upon her uncle’s recommendation, she chose to pursue a PhD in physical chemistry—an interdisciplinary and complex science.   

Soon after receiving her PhD from UC Berkeley, Keren was recruited by Lam at a job fair. “Before coming here, I thought you needed to be an electrical engineer to work in the semiconductor industry,” Keren says. “But then I saw that building chips requires the right chemicals, temperature, plasma, and pressures. That’s where physical chemistry comes in use.”  

That was 22 years ago. She started as a Process Engineer in dielectric etch of high aspect ratios, where she developed a ramping approach. Then, in 2006, she patented for Lam the CD (critical dimension) shrink process that is still widely used by Lam’s customers today. In the 2010s, Keren and Lam colleagues patented methods for plasma-enhanced atomic layer etching (ALE), such as the GaN ALE, which is now used on Lam tools for power device applications. In 2016, Keren was the inventor on Lam’s patent for mixed mode pulsing (MMP), which is now a key feature on our plasma etching tools. The list goes on. Altogether, Keren has 187 issued and pending patents worldwide. 

Vast Potential 

As her role at Lam evolved, Keren rose up Lam’s technical ladder, working as a technical advisor under Rick Gottscho, former Product Group lead and CTO (now EVP and Strategic Advisor to the CEO). In this role, she helped shape Lam’s strategic technical direction and executive messaging of the company’s technical vision to our customers, investors, academia, and government. It was also in this role that Keren first became involved with ISS while working with Rick on his 2020 keynote talk “I’m Living in a Little Data World, and I Have a Big Problem.”  

She now brings her 20+ years of Lam experience to bear under our new CTO, Vahid Vahedi, where she identifies gaps in the industry as opportunities for future growth. Keren has grown to appreciate the merging of scientific technology with business needs. It’s this combination that she loves about the semiconductor industry and sees in it a vast potential. “The truth is that this industry found me. Sometimes you learn to love what you are immersed in rather than the other way around.”  

Thought Leadership 

Keren brings a wealth of technical leadership to the ISS committee. She launched the field of atomic layer etching (ALE) as a lead author on a seminal ALE review article (2015) and other peer-reviewed papers on the underlying ALE mechanism. She also co-founded the ALE Workshop at the ALD/ALE conference and is on its Steering Committee. It’s this pioneering spirit and thought leadership showcasing Lam in semiconductor process development that Keren brings to the ISS committee.  

Building on her process engineering experience, in 2020, she published a paper for newcomers, “Inside the Mysterious World of Plasma: A Process Engineer’s Perspective,” to explain the job of process engineering and the importance of plasma in making chips.  

Nearly five years ago, inspired by the 2020 ISS talk, Keren started engaging with the next generation of thought leaders at Lam with informal weekly lunches that bring together process engineers and data scientists. It was this open forum that led to one of the most prestigious research studies ever published by Lam. Just last year, Keren was the lead author on Lam’s groundbreaking paper on the use of AI in process engineering, published in Nature 

“We played a game between humans and computers to determine who could develop a process at the lowest cost,” Keren explains. The research showed cost was reduced when combining an expert with the algorithms. “We are transforming the way we have done process engineering for the past 50 years.” 

Looking ahead to her involvement with the ISS committee, Keren is interested in further helping the industry understand the important role of process engineering in advancing chip manufacturing and reminding customers and other industry players of Lam’s contribution to enabling those processes.  
“It is essential for Lam to influence the breakthroughs needed for the next chip technology,” Keren says. “By being on this committee, I hope to shape the technology prospects and roadmap to help ensure Lam’s lasting role in improving the trajectory of this industry.”