History Session @ Flash Memory Summit, Aug 7th, Santa Clara, CA

Session 302-C: An Interview with Simon Sze, Co-Inventor of the Floating Gate (History Track)
Organizer: Brian A. Berg, President, Berg Software Design


Simon Sze, Professor, National Chiao Tung University (Taiwan)

Session Description:

What was the origin of the “floating gate” transistor, the foundation for all of today’s nonvolatile memory? Believe it or not, it arose out of a lunchtime conversation at Bell Labs about replacing core memory and layered chocolate or cheesecake! Come hear Simon Sze, father of the floating gate, share details of this and many other interesting stories about how storage technology has progressed, including work by Intel, Toshiba, and many now-forgotten companies.

Intended Audience:
Marketing and sales managers and executives, marketing engineers, product managers, product marketing specialists, hardware and software designers, software engineers, technology managers, systems analysts and integrators, engineering managers, consultants, design specialists, design service providers, marcom specialists, product marketing engineers, financial managers and executives, system engineers, test engineers, venture capitalists, financial analysts, media representatives, sales representatives, distributors, and solution providers.

Session Organizer: Brian A. Berg is Technical Chair of Flash Memory Summit. He is President of Berg Software Design, a consultancy that has specialized in storage and storage interface technology for 30 years. Brian has been a conference speaker, session chair and conference chair at over 70 industry events. He is active in IEEE, including as a Section officer, an officer in the Consultants’ Network and Women in Engineering affinity groups, and Region 6 Milestone Coordinator. He has a particular interest in flash firmware architecture, including patents and intellectual property.


About the Interviewee:
Professor Simon Sze, PhD is the co-inventor of floating gate non-volatile semiconductor memory which provided the basis for today’s flash devices. His invention led to such hugely popular consumer electronics as smartphones, GPS devices, ultrabooks, and tablets. Dr. Sze has also made significant technical contributions in other areas such as metal-semiconductor contacts, microwave devices, and submicron MOSFET technology. He has written over 200 technical papers and has written or edited 16 books. He is currently a National Endowed Chair Professor of Electrical Engineering at National Chiao Tung University (Taiwan). He is also an academician of the Academia Sinica, a foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, and a member of the US National Academy of Engineering. Simon spends half his time in the Taiwan, where he teaches and looks after his 99 year old uncle.

About the Chairperson / Interviewer:
Alan J. Weissberger, ScD EE is the Chair of the IEEE Silicon Valley Technology History Committee, Content Manager for the global IEEE ComSoc Community website, North America Correspondent for the IEEE Global Communications Newsletter, Chair Emeritus of the IEEE Santa Clara Valley ComSoc, and an IEEE Senior Life Member. He is a former Adjunct Professor in the Santa Clara Univ. EE Department where he established the grad EE Telecom curriculum. As a volunteer for the Computer History Museum, SIGCIS.org and ITHistory.org, he writes technical summaries of lectures and exhibits.



Questions & Issues for Simon to Discuss:

1. How did the concept of using non-volatile semiconductor memory to replace core memory evolve at Bell Labs in early 1967? Note that there were no commercially available semiconductor memories at that time and Intel didn’t even exist.

2. Please describe your floating gate transistor project, which was started in March 1967 and completed in May of that same year. What did layer cake have to do with it? What type of experiments did you do and what were the results? What did your AT&T Bell Labs boss say about the paper you wrote on floating gate and its potential use in Non volatile semiconductor memories?

3. Why didn’t Bell Labs attempt to commercialize floating gate or other research related to MOSFETs? After all, they were the #1 captive semiconductor company in the U.S. supplying components to Western Electric and later AT&T Network Systems for decades.

4. Why was the floating gate transistor so vital to NVMs like EPROMs and (later) Flash? History shows that Intel, SanDisk and Toshiba made NVM components based on that technology, but many years after it was invented. How did that happen?

5. 1967 was your best year – even better than years you saw others commercialize your floating gate invention. Please (briefly) tell us why.

6. Describe your relationship with floating gate co-inventor Dawon Kahng who was of Korean descent. How did you two get along- at work and personally? Were there any other Bell Labs co-workers or bosses that impacted your career or life?

7. On a broader scale, what was the work environment like at Bell Labs in the 1960s and how did it change during your 27 years there?

8. You left Bell Labs in 1990 to become a full time professor in Taiwan where you graduated from National Taipei University before you pursued your advanced degrees in the U.S. 24 years you are still a Professor there as well as at Stanford University where you got your PhD. You’ve also taught numerous guest lectures and courses in other countries such as England, Israel, and mainland China. Please tell us about your academic career, including why you decided to study semiconductor physics at Stanford in the early 1960s and your experience as a Professor and Guest Lecturer.

9. You’ve been very successful as a prolific author of books, chapters, papers, etc. Your textbook on the Physics of Semiconductors is a classic. Tell us about the methodology you used to publish research and textbooks and a few other books/chapters/papers you are especially proud of.

10. You’ve said that Moore’s law hit a wall in 2000, but moved ahead due to advances in making Flash memories. Could you please elaborate on that for us and tell us how long you think Moore’s law can keep going. NOTE: Moore’s law only applies to MOS LSIs- not bipolar or analog components. Up till 2000, Moore’s law was driven by advances in DRAMs.

11. You have a “long wave” theory on the pervasiveness of electronics called the “Cluster Effect” which looks far out into the future. What’s in store for us there- in particular, when Moore’s law ends.

12. What advice would you give to aspiring technology researchers, engineers, authors & educators?

Closing Remarks

Q & A