Oral History Interview with Donald M. Mattox (DMM)
Conducted by Ric Shimshock (RS), April 2002
Don Mattox (left) and Ric Shimshock (right) at the
45th Society of Vacuum Coaters Annual Technical Conference
RS: We’re at the Coronado Springs Resort in Orlando, Florida, and the 45th Society of Vacuum Coaters Annual Technical Conference has been successfully concluded. We’re here with Don Mattox for the SVC Oral History project. Don’s an inventor, scientist, problem-solver and teacher, and we wanted to get a little bit of his perspective on how he ended up on this path and the journey of plasmas and ion plating and some of the other things that he’s tackled, solved and contributed.
DMM: Thank you, Ric. I guess we should do this in sort of a chronological manner. I earned my Bachelor of Science degree from a small college in central Kentucky, actually my hometown. The degree was in physics. Unfortunately, when I finally received my B.S. degree, the Korean War was going on. Most of the people on the draft board in this small town didn’t even have a high school education, so they figured that a college education was plenty. I had the option of going into the Army – the infantry in Korea – or joining the U.S. Air Force. The Air Force at that time, for people with my background, allowed you to go in for four years under a program in which they would send you to nine months of schooling, and then you needed to serve the rest of the time as a meteorologist for the U.S. Air Force. So I took them up on the offer, rather than go to the infantry. After two months of training to be an officer and a gentleman in Texas, I went to two semesters at MIT to study meteorology. The first semester at MIT I made all A’s. Of tutorial, for somebody from a little podunk college in Kentucky making all A’s wouldn’t do. I didn’t do it in the second semester. But anyway, I went through the training in meteorology at MIT, and then served as a meteorologist—first in Florida; actually up here in the panhandle of Florida, where I was stationed for about a year—then for about two and a half years in Alaska, where I was a weather officer in the 58th Weather Recon Squadron. We flew weather reconnaissance missions out over the Bering Sea toward the Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula and also up over the North Pole. I put in about 1,500 hours of flying time in B-29s and B-50s at that time, and I had a considerable number of interesting experiences that have nothing to do with thin films.
When I did get out of the military, with a little over four years of service, I went to the University of Kentucky on the G.I. Bill and studied solid-state physics. While I was at the university I was studying electrical breakdown and erase/record-type of data storage in calcogenide glasses – the same thing that Ovshinsky did a few years later and it was called the ‘Ovshinsky Effect.’ So I got my M.S. degree, but not too long after that my advisor at the university died and I had to change advisors and leave solid-state physics and go into high-energy physics. I didn’t want to do that—so I decided to go out into the cold, cruel world.
I wanted to move to the Southwest, so I came to the Southwest to interview for a job. I went to Boulder, CO to the Atmospheric Research Center; I went to Phoenix; and finally I went to Albuquerque, NM, to Sandia Corporation. I was probably the first, if not the only, Technical Staff Member whom they ever hired who was a "walk-in" —who wasn’t invited and they paid your way there and all that. I just went up and knocked on the door and said, ‘I’m here. Does anybody want to interview me?’ So they interviewed me and it was at a very fortunate time. At that time Sandia Corporation was a spin-off of Los Alamos National Laboratory because it was the engineering arm of the nuclear weapons business. Sandia wasn’t involved in a nuclear part, which was what Los Alamos was doing, and they didn’t like to have all these engineers to deal with. So they spun it off right after World War II. The story is told that Harry Truman called in the President of AT&T and said, ‘Would you manage this new laboratory for us, or would you rather have an anti-trust suit?’ So AT&T said, ‘We’d be glad to manage the laboratory for you.’ So for years AT&T managed Sandia Corporation—later Sandia Laboratories—for $1 per year.
I arrived just about the time the materials part of Sandia wanted to expand from just being an engineering organization into a research-development type of organization—a group that would have some ability to have some innovation and do new things. So they asked me if I could do research, and I said, ‘Sure.’ So that’s how I entered Sandia Labs.
RS: What was your first project?
DMM: Actually, probably the first project I had was a production problem where we were making high-pressure gas bottles out of high-strength steel. They were being vacuum cadmium-plated for corrosion protection. They had a problem with the adhesion of the cadmium to the steel. So I went to the production plant and saw what they were doing. Basically, their problem was that they were blowing it off with house air, which had oil in it before they tried to coat it with the cadmium. So that wasn’t too hard a problem. But I did end up in a technology group that was more oriented to making a product or making something work than it was a group who were doing research to write technical papers. The idea was, ‘We have this problem—how do we solve it?’ We could do it any way you want to—electroplating or plasma spraying or PVD or CVD. I ended up looking at all these things and that is one of the reasons, I guess, I have quite a broad background in many different areas.
RS: Was it a team effort, or did you work on these as individual contributors?
DMM: No, it was pretty much an individual project. This was really the nice thing about it, because when I walked in the door and said, ‘I can do research,’ they said, ‘Well, you’re in charge of research on coatings.’ So from the very first I was sort of autonomous in what I did and what I studied—as long as I made customers happy who had a problem. This was an excellent place to walk into. I also interviewed at IBM, and there you’d start number 20 in a group, and maybe in 15 years you’d be up to number 5, then you could start getting your name on a paper, for instance.
RS: Did you have a mentor there? Was there someone who you worked with? Or was it really the very first organization focused on research?
DMM: No I did not have a mentor. I was the first person who took up thin films and vacuum coating. I don’t know exactly why I ended up doing that, but I’d done a little bit of work on vacuum technology in graduate school, and I thought that was a neat thing to do. So I started doing it. And I got away with it because I started solving problems that they had in design and production. But that was our business—not only to come up with new processes and new ways of doing things, but also to move them into a production agency.
RS: Did you always like to work with your hands and see the effects of your work? Or had that been something that developed as you…
DMM: Sort of yes and no. I was, I guess, sort of unusual in the group that I ended up in, in that I was big on going to the library and finding out what had been done before. When I did become Supervisor there, that’s what I always told people when they’d come to me and we’d start a new project. I’d say, ‘I don’t want to see you for six weeks. I want you to be over in the library finding out what other people have done on it for all these years.’ That, I think, worked out quite well because at that time, of tutorial, we didn’t have all these nice computer searches and everything. You had to really sit down with books and dig through them. We had an excellent technical library, so you could request all the references you needed. Many of the people who were there—and even people who came later on—just weren’t used to spending their time in the library, which I was a great believer in.
RS: So with that type of discipline, were they mechanical engineers that were…
DMM: Well, it was mostly metallurgical engineers and some chemists. The mechanical engineers were in different groups. I was in a metallurgy group where people would come in with metallurgy or materials problems, because we had not only metals, but we had ceramics and polymers. At one time or another I had groups of people doing organic adhesives and ceramic fabrication and electroplating. I had all of these types of projects to supervise when I became a Supervisor – which was maybe four or five years after I arrived at Sandia. The goal was to have a tangible accomplishment and get it into production, and not to necessarily write papers. This, again, was different—because they had a culture where they didn’t write papers and didn’t do things for outside consumption. So I sort of initiated that, also.
RS: Did people bring you problems to solve because they were having some difficulty, or did you look on the horizon and say, ‘These are areas that they need a materials property or a materials function.’
DMM: Well, it was a combination. Sometimes they would have a problem with how to make something – or sometimes you had to convince them that what you could do for them would be feasible, even though they didn’t know it. To jump ahead a little bit, after we had developed the ion-plating process, one of the first projects we did was coating the pulse nuclear reactor components. These were enriched uranium, where they basically brought two things together that exceeded a critical mass. Then before they could blow up, they’d pull them back apart—and you’d get a big pulse of neutrons. But the temperature would rise about 500° Centigrade in a millisecond or two. The corrosion of the uranium was prevented by electroplated nickel. That would last a few times, then the nickel would start to spall off, and to recoat it they’d have to strip it—but when they stripped it, they’d start to etch the enriched uranium, which was worth a bundle of money. So one of our first projects with our ion plating process was to put aluminum on for corrosion protection. We were quite successful in doing that, and within a few years, all of the pulse reactors probably in the free world were coated with aluminum for corrosion protection, rather than with electroplated nickel.
So, like I say, we were interested in results of using something. Sandia and the Department of Energy at that time—later the AEC—had captive production plants with different companies—General Electric, TI, Dow and others. We at Sandia were a design and development organization and we’d have to take these things and put them into a production environment, then go troubleshoot it and have it go into production, which spanned the whole gamut of things from front to back.
RS: Did you tend to see the same problem repeating itself in different situations? Or was it a different problem all the time?
DMM: It was different problems all the time. Everything from—like I say—coating uranium reactor parts, to metallizing semiconductors, to metallizing quartz-crystal tuning oscillators. We were sort of the repository of all the problems that involved any kind of thin films in the business. So we had plenty of different varieties of stuff. And sometimes it was quite really very different. Like one time we got involved in the coating of the limiters in TOKAMAK reactors, which were plasma-fusion reactors. The problem is, the limiter sticks out in the plasma and when things are going good, the plasma misses the limiter; but when things go bad, the whole plasma dumps all its energy into a limiter, sputtering impurities into the plasma. Many people said, ‘You can’t coat a limiter and have it survive that kind of thermal input.’ So we coated some carbon and then we made an electron-beam heating test unit that cycled it thousands of times with pulse heating back and forth and back and forth to show that you could make coatings stand up under that environment. Sometimes we were caught up in disproving other people’s misconceptions about things. So yes, we had everything from—people would bring us the problem and say, ‘It’s got to be done this way with this material,’ to going out and finding people who had problems and saying, ‘We can solve your problem with coatings or surface modification or something like that.’
RS: What sort of tools did you have in your toolkit? Did you have SEMs and analysis techniques?
DMM: Yes, we probably had the first of the SEMs in the mid-1960s when Cambridge brought out their SEMs. When I was first there, which was in 1961, we didn’t have those kinds of tools. We had TEMs, but they had very limited use. We had very good analytical instruments when they existed, but things like the SEM and the RBS didn’t exist at that time. So it was later on that we started to get more sophisticated about what we were actually doing. So anyway, I went there in 1961 and went into a metallurgy division and started playing around with thin films.
Probably one of the earliest and probably the best-known thing that I was involved in was the ion-plating process. The ion-plating process was basically conceived and executed one afternoon because I was in an argument with somebody. The metallurgy group that I was in had some people who were concerned with adhesion and there was a theory at that time which said that for good adhesion from metal to a metal surface that you had to have interdiffusion; there had to be some solubility. Like I say, I had been reading up on the subject and knew about sputter cleaning and all of that. So I said, ‘No, I think it’s due to having a good, clean interface. If we can get atoms close together, we’ll get good adhesion.’ So I had this little sputtering system and I made this little evaporation rig and so I just said, ‘Well, I’ll sputter the surface and evaporate material down on it faster than it’s sputtering off, and see if we get good adhesion.’ So basically I set it up, ran it in an afternoon, and got excellent adhesion. Then I showed that with materials like silver and iron, you could get good adhesion even though they’re mutually insoluble even in the molten state. That’s sort of how it all got started – to disprove somebody else’s hypothesis.
RS: The hypothesis was, two materials had to interdiffuse to make a good bond.
DMM: Yes that was their hypothesis. So I said, ‘No, I think if you had a good, clean surface, then it would adhere.’
RS: Once you settled the argument, how did you continue to develop this ion-plating technique? Did they bring you other materials and say, ‘Try this,’ or were you intrigued by the process?
DMM: No, not really at first. One of the first things that came up almost immediately somebody called up and said, ‘We really want to replace the coating on our fusion reactor parts. Can you do it?’ So I said, ‘Sure. Send them over.’ So they sent them over. At first, all the time we were doing these parts and we just did it in an 18-inch glass bell jar system. We were doing it within a week or so. We’d pump overnight and we’d have an armed guard standing by the vacuum system the whole time that this stuff was in there because it was worth—nobody knows what it was worth, but it was half a million dollars or something like that with just one little piece of enriched uranium. We almost immediately had people interested, and almost immediately NASA, the people up in Cleveland, got into ion plating for tribological coatings. Leon McCrary and others from McDonnell-Douglas came and got the idea of how to do what was called ivadizing, which is now a common process for the aerospace industry. But it was sort of an interesting project to report on. I did the work and then worked on a patent disclosure. Then I went to the adhesion conference up in New Hampshire, the Gordon Research Conference on Adhesion in 1963. So I was up there and I was scheduled to give the paper, but they hadn’t cleared the paper because of the patent aspects of it. So I was sitting up there and finally on Wednesday they called me and said it had been cleared, and my paper was on Thursday. So I managed to give the paper. And well, it was an interesting paper because in those days the Gordon Research Conference on Thursday evening had all-you-can-eat lobster dinners. So you could go and you could pig out on lobster. Then they had one paper after the lobster dinner. My paper was after the lobster dinner. And so my paper ran on—and questions and discussion—ran on for three hours after an all-you-can-eat lobster dinner. That was probably the hardest paper I ever gave. It generated quite a bit of interest at that time, and then a little bit later it was published in Electrochemical Technology, which was a technology journal that the Electrochemical Society started up. A couple of years after the paper was published, the journal quit publishing. I don’t whether my paper had anything to do with that or not, but it’s sort of interesting.
RS: So eventually it was heralded in Time Magazine, wasn’t it?
DMM: Yes, it was in Time Magazine in 1964, I think. I think that’s how they learned about it at McDonnell-Douglas – they learned about it from the Time Magazine article.
RS: And how did that happen? How did the reporter for Time find out about this scientific achievement in one of the national labs?
DMM: I have no idea. Probably some PR operation. But it sounded good. Of tutorial it was in the public domain because we were a government laboratory. Many people around the world have spent a lot of time trying to find prior art on it, and basically there was one, 25 years earlier, which had only been published as a patent and never used—it was published just before the beginning of the World War II, and I guess it got wiped out in the hiatus of the World War II.
RS: And what patent was that?
DMM: I think that it was a patent by Berghaus in 1939. It was not even in Leslie Holland’s book, which was the bible of thin-film processing in those days. So it was one of those things that just got lost in history. But the group that I had did a lot of work, for instance on plasma treating polymers for increased adhesion. People in my group were doing that in the mid-1960s, but they weren’t doing it for film deposition. They were doing it for adhesive bonding. You plasma-treat a polymer and then you adhesively bond it and get much stronger bonds. It was called ‘casing’ back in those days, and it was a sort of competition with the people in my group and the people at Bell Labs, Sharp and Schornhorn, who were doing the same kind of things. Everybody was arguing over what was going on with it. Probably one of the things that was happening was that we didn’t have very good vacuums at that time. Everybody probably had oxygen in their discharge whether they thought they did or not. So I suspect we were oxygen-plasma treating it, even though people were saying, ‘Oh, it’s helium or argon’ or whatever else was being used. So we were into that aspect of plasma treatment. We had a number of applications of ion plating go into production. The aluminum coating of the uranium actually went into production for some nuclear weapons applications, also. After we started proving that there was product to be made, we started to get more support, and more people into the business. So at Sandia I started the first Surface Science Group, where we started to look at auger spectrometry and other kinds of surface analytical techniques. When that part of my group grew fairly large, they split it off and made it a separate group within our basic research group. I was trying to use surface science techniques for something practical, and they wanted to use surface science to publish papers.
RS: How did people view ion plating? What is it a treatment or thin films or like a…
DMM: It depends on whom you talk to. The fundamental thing with ion plating is, the ion bombarding prior to deposition to sputter-clean the surface, and then starting the deposition before the surface can be recontaminated. That was to get the good interface and the good adhesion. And then very quickly we found, if we keep on bombarding, we densify the film. So that’s another aspect. So the way we were doing it initially was to evaporate materials because we couldn’t sputter at high rates at that time. There was no magnetron sputtering at that time. We were using a simple DC diode with a couple of thousand volts on it. So it was quite easy to evaporate material on it faster than we sputtered it back off. But the other way we did it was to use chemical vapor precursors—something like tungsten hexafluoride and acetylene and methane, and put them into the discharge and bombard at the same time. And the bombardment then decomposes the chemical vapor precursor and gives you a film of whatever is in the precursor, like carbon or tungsten. But if you do plasma-type CVD processing at half a Torr or one Torr or more, you couldn’t accelerate ions to high energies. So you could get the plasma chemistry effects, but you don’t get the bombardment effects. We did our plasma CVD processing at sputtering pressures of 10 microns or so. And so our ion-plating process was based on two sources—one was using a thermal-evaporation source, and secondly using a chemical vapor precursor source. Then, of tutorial, when you combine the two, you get compounds like carbides. A fellow at Litton Industries by the name of Bob Culbertson and I worked on depositing titanium carbide this way in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which now, of tutorial, is the common way of doing things for tool coatings. Tool coating didn’t really come on until the 1980s. I guess I should say there was a lot of jealousy about the thing. To my mind it was just I happened to be at the right place at the right time, because somebody else would have come up with that simple-minded idea very soon if I hadn’t done it. But a lot of people didn’t ever want to recognize it as something that was a new concept.
RS: What’s the strangest thing that was ion plated, to your mind—where they utilized that process?
DMM: Utilizing the ion-plating process? The strangest thing? Like I said, coating those enriched-uranium reactor parts was pretty unusual! Having armed guards standing around was pretty unusual. Boy, I don’t know. That’s one I never even thought about. People have used it for any number of things, probably one of the interesting things was coating aerospace fasteners. In the aerospace industry, you have a problem because you have an aluminum skin on the airplane and then you have high-strength fasteners—either steel or titanium. You have a good galvanic coupling between them. So there’s always been a problem with galvanic corrosion. One of the first things we did—actually we did this in the laboratory—was make a little rotating cage, which was at high potential, and we put little bearings and little nuts and little screws in there and coated them with gold—tumble them and coat them with gold at the same time. This gave us a gold-coated, completely coated screw. This is the kind of thing we were using in ultra-high-vacuum systems. This is one of the things that the McDonnell-Douglas people saw when they came and visited us. Then they made one that was big. They made it a meter in diameter and a couple of meters long, and they’d throw a bushel basket full of screws or something in there and tumble and coat them with aluminum. And then you’d have aluminum-coated fasteners to prevent the galvanic corrosion. It’s analogous to barrel-plating in electroplating, but it had not, to my knowledge, been done in the thin-film business. It was just beginning about the same time, the early 1960s, that films stopped being only thin films and started to be thicker films for things like corrosion protection and wear. And that’s one reason I’d rather use the term ‘vacuum coatings’ rather than ‘thin films,’ because thin films you normally think about optical coatings or mirrors or something like that. Many coatings began to be used for other applications at that period of time.
RS: The first time I used an ion-plating process, when I was at Optical Coating Laboratory, we had a problem to solve that was related to thermal control of spacecraft using a second surface mirror using silver and very thin sheets of fused silica. There was the problem of electrostatic discharge between the dielectric front surfaces, and we needed to come up with a way to conformally coat the three-dimensional stack of these thin sheets of cards, essentially. And so with your process we were able to coat in any dimension, essentially, and use the pressure and the acceleration of the ions to get in the little cracks in the glass and the edges and make sure that many of the spacecraft that are flying up there didn’t suffer an outage because of a buildup of particles in space.
DMM: There were a couple of interesting things that came out of these ion-plating studies. One of the things we found very early on is that if we evaporated at a very high rate in a plasma the whole inside of the system would get coated with what we ended up calling ‘black sooty ****.’ And what it was was vapor-phase-nucleated particles. You know, when you get really high vaporization rates, you get multi-body collisions. But the interesting thing was, they would never be on the substrate, because what would happen is that they would get charged negatively, and then be repelled by a negative bias on the substrate and so you’d never get any black sooty **** on your deposit. So you could run it at relatively high gas pressures where you get a lot of scattering which helps coat 3-dimentional objects. If you tried to do it without the bias, which people tried; they called it ‘gas scatter plating’ for a little while—they’d get a very porous, lousy deposit. The bombardment was necessary to densify the deposit and came to be called "atomic peening".
RS: It wiped right off.
DMM: Yes. So the combination of peening plus you don’t get the black sooty **** on it. Well you could get a good coating on very complicated surfaces. But also it was sort of interesting because this black sooty **** would get on the inside of a glass bell jar, and one of the thing we used to do—which you’d get in big trouble for now—we’d have a glass bell jar and we’d tell somebody, ‘We’ve got this black stuff on there; would you wipe it off with this paper towel.’ And they’d get up there and they’d wipe it. And it would be something like fine titanium. As soon as you’d disturb it, it would catch fire. All of a sudden this piece of paper that they were wiping with was on fire and the bell jar would get on fire! It would be a flame front run all around the inside. People would really get upset about it. We thought that was great fun, but I guess we’d get in trouble nowadays. It turns out that when you make these very finely divided particles that they’ll get a very, very thin oxide layer on them and it will be stable; but boy, you disturb it and zoomo. You get an exothermic reaction and it’s gone.
RS: So you contributed to the theory of adhesion between surfaces. You’ve worked on plating and creating these three-dimensional activated depositions. You also invested in a lot of contamination issues. When is clean clean, and when is dirty dirty?
DMM: Part of my group was always concerned with cleaning and contamination control. For instance, we discovered the UV ozone cleaning technique. And the reason we got into that was that there was a component that has a small quartz vibrating reed in it. And this had to be metallized. The problem was that when they made the reed they glued it to the grinding surface with carnauba wax and then they’d grind it and get it nice and thin and all that. But then we would have this damn reed that was extremely fragile with carnauba wax on it. So you’d put it in solvents and you could get most of this stuff off, but you couldn’t get that last little bit of wax off. So I was again thinking about what we could do. The chemists use what they call a ‘plasma asher,’ which is an oxygen plasma to burn stuff without flame. So I thought, ‘Well, if we generated some ozone—which is highly oxidizing—we could do the same kind of thing. So I went down to the rock and mineral shop and got a black light, the light that they use to make fluorescent minerals glow. So we took this black light and put these reeds on a stainless-steel surface and put them under the black light, and left them there overnight. We came back the next day and all the wax had been oxidized off the surface. We thought that was a pretty neat thing. So we started building these little boxes with a quartz lamp in them of about 12-inch square and sort of serpentine lamp. At first you could buy these lamps for $75 or something. But as soon as the manufacturers realized that there was a market for them, they went up to about $400! But we found we could take a glass slide and we could clean it, then we would put it in this UV ozone cleaner and it would stay clean forever. You could leave it there for a month. Or you could take the black light and just leave it above the surface, and leave it there for days and days, then put a water drop on it and it was still nice and clean. So we started using these for storage of clean parts like glass parts, because now you could clean them and then you had a good way of storing them and all you had to do was open it up, take them out, and put them in the system.
That worked out quite well. I presented that work at—well, actually I didn’t present it; I talked to a guy at a frequency-control symposium because they have this problem with quartz crystal oscillators that if you package the quartz crystal oscillator and it has any contamination on there, it will get on the quartz crystal and change the frequency, and your frequency will drift. Of tutorial, you put it on a satellite or something and that spoils your whole day, when the frequency has drifted off to where you can’t receive it. They were all interested in cleaning not only the quartz crystal but everything that had to do with the package. Actually, we ended up making an assembly line down in Florida, something like 50 feet long, of just this stainless-steel tube with workstations where you could take all the parts and put them in and you clean them, then you could assemble it, then you could clean it, then you could assemble it, then clean it, then finally when it came out the other end it had never been touched by any contamination; it had only been touched in a clean atmosphere and had been cleaned by this UV ozone. It made very low-drift quartz oscillators. Of tutorial, the ones you get at Radio Shack are a dollar or two, but you start playing those cleaning games and they’re hundreds of dollars.
RS: How did you get involved with the American Vacuum Society?
DMM: Well, I became involved with them in the early 1960s. They and the Electrochemical Society were where papers on thin films were published. After I became involved with them, I very quickly was made Chairman of the Thin Film Division, because nobody else was in it. Then I started teaching tutorials for AVS. I think the first one was in 1972. Actually, I’d started teaching tutorials at Sandia in the early 1960s. Sometimes I tell people I date myself when I say that I was teaching a noon-hour short tutorial when John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas, Texas in 1965. That sort of dates me somewhat. Anyway, I started teaching short tutorials for the AVS in 1972, and finally in 1985, I was elected President of the American Vacuum Society. It was sort of an interesting election in that I ran against Bob Parks, who is now in Washington; he was a surface scientist, actually I’d hired him into Sandia. He was a pretty good surface scientist, and now he’s sort of a political kind of animal in Washington. At the AVS you had these two different groups. You had the technology people who are like those in the SVC, and then on the other side you had the basic research people. If you asked the basic research people they’d say, ‘Nah, Mattox hasn’t got a chance; it’s going to be Bob Parks.’ And you ask the technology group and, ‘Nah, Parks doesn’t have a chance; it’s going to be Mattox.’ So yes, I was elected to be President – much to the great surprise of some people.
PS: How long were you involved with the AVS?
DMM: That’s sort of a sad story. Right after I was President of AVS I started teaching for the Materials Research Society also. My wife was the Short Tutorial Manager for the MRS; she started to develop short tutorials for the Materials Research Society. I started teaching tutorials for the Materials Research Society as well as the American Vacuum Society, and the American Vacuum Society decided they didn’t like that. So in the early 1990s, AVS blackballed me from teaching.
RS: Did they send you a letter or did they give you a call, or how did you figure that out?
DMM: They just quit asking me to teach. As a matter of fact I had just developed a tutorial on surface preparation, which I’d taught four or five times. Then they quit asking me to teach it—but they asked another person to teach it who used the same title and the same tutorial description.
RS: So you got the message, then?
DMM: So I got the message. Later on I became associated with the Society of Vacuum Coaters, as did my wife Vivienne.
RS: Teaching, was it? Or were you just coming to present?
DMM: Of managing it and helping it and so forth. But if I had stayed with the American Vacuum Society, then neither she nor I probably would have been working for SVC. So that was sort of an interesting quirk to things because now I think SVC is much more deeply involved in vacuum coating than AVS is by a long shot. So it was sort of changing horses whether you wanted to or not kind of thing, not just because it was dying but because you were forced to.
RS: When you first came to the Society of Vacuum Coaters, what was their focus or audience or community that they were dealing with?
DMM: It was pretty much of a very loose organization. One of the problems they had was that it was sort of a good-old-boy kind of thing and if you were one of the good old boys—particularly if you were giving a paper—then they wouldn’t charge you anything. So they had a whole bunch of people come to the meeting who didn’t pay anything, in addition to which they didn’t market it very well and had poor meeting management. They had gone into pretty dire financial straits, when Vivienne took over the management. She took over the management while I was still at Sandia, but a few years later when I retired from Sandia, both of us started working for the SVC.
RS: Did she bid on this or make a proposal to them, or did they approach her?
DMM: No, actually what happened with the whole thing was that Neil Poley and George Lane approached Vivienne because she had been the Short Tutorial Manager in AVS for many years as a volunteer. Then she’d gotten sort of on the outs with the AVS because they sort of replaced her and didn’t listen to her—which, if you know my wife, she didn’t like.
RS: Bad choice!
DMM: So she was sort of around and she was doing this work for MRS and then they approached her about taking over management of SVC, and I sort of came along for the ride initially. Then a few years later the office of Technical Director was created, which then I took that as well as being part of the management organization. So I were two hats—one is the Technical Director and also as part of the management company that takes care of running the Society.
RS: Now as Technical Director you’ve helped guide the Society of Vacuum Coaters conference—a very successful conference, the TechCon, and the organization is very vital and fulfills education and instruction to many people in the field here. Where do you think that SVC should go, or what holds some goals for the future?
DMM: I’m a great believer in focus, and I think the focus of the SVC should stay just what it is—and that is, vacuum coating and vacuum treatments and vacuum surfaces, things like that. I think there’s a lot of room for growth there. For instance, all the plasma-CVD kind of stuff and what I call ‘low-pressure, plasma-enhanced CVD,’ where we can have ion bombardment because we can accelerate ions. I think this is a very growing field that is going to continue to grow and I personally would like the focus to stay on vacuum coating, whether it be from physical vapor deposition or chemical vapor deposition or anything else we might want to come up with. There seems to be continually new developments in processing—like the plasma-immersion technique that’s going on now. As that develops, it’s going to be, I think, a good viable production tool. As long as things stay active and there’s interest and new things coming along, then I don’t see any reason much to expand into other areas—which, in my opinion, is what the American Vacuum Society did. They started to get into other areas and started ending up being a bunch of disparate groups who don’t really have anything in common. So I don’t really see anything in the overall goal of the SVC that should change. I’d like to see it stay small enough that people know that the group next door might not be doing exactly what they’re doing, but they may be doing something of interest and maybe I ought to learn it, because if I don’t learn it, maybe they’ll run me out of business. As long as you have that kind of atmosphere I think it’s very healthy and people stay with it. So I think the focus is right and I think it should stay there.
RS: What’s your passion?
DMM: Well, my passion—I used to do quite a lot of hiking and trekking and mountain climbing and things like that. I have always liked to do it, but the old body doesn’t want to do it anymore! I was down in the Grand Canyon a week or so ago, meeting some other old people down there. We had a party and met some of my friends who are hiking the length of the Grand Canyon. But it’s getting hard on the body to do things like that!
RS: That love of the outdoors is what drew you to Albuquerque? Is that why you came?
DMM: Part of it. Actually, it’s interesting, because the only reason I had ever heard of Sandia Corporation—as it was called at that time—is that I read in a slicky magazine that they used bicycles to get around the tech area. So that’s the only reason I knew that they were there. So I stopped in to talk to them about getting a job. So they were using bicycles to get around the tech area, but they quit it about six months later after I went to work there, because people kept wrecking on the bicycles. So they got rid of the bicycles. I wouldn’t have stopped there if I hadn’t have read about them using bicycles to get around! Yes, the Southwest is a great place for outdoor activities. I was originally born in Kentucky, and Kentucky is now full of people, which of tutorial is not true in New Mexico, anyway. I’ve been there since 1961—that’s 40 years. I’ve actually been in the thin-film business—or the vacuum-coating business—for 40 years. So I don’t know what that makes me, but it makes me old. Anyway, anything else you want to discuss?
RS: No, I think that finishes my questions. Thank you for participating in this.
DMM: Well, I enjoyed it. We could go on for another couple of hours.
RS: Maybe we’ll have Chapter Two next.
DMM: Yes, they’re trying to talk me into revising my book and I don’t know whether I want to get into that or not. That was an interesting thing, too—writing that book.