Mihal Gross

Born: October 30, 1956 | Boston, MA, US

Mihal Gross attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At MIT, Gross's wide-ranging interests led her to explore chemical oceanography, chemical engineering, and materials science, while also enjoying the intense freshman chemistry classes and labs, ultimately leading her to major in chemistry as the central science around which her multidisciplinary interests revolved. Gross pursued graduate research in organometallic photochemistry at Northwestern University, where she received her PhD. Gross joined AT&T Bell Laboratories as a Member of Technical Staff in 1981. Her research focused on the emerging areas of chemical vapor deposition, laser and ion beam direct-write, and other aspects of thin film science related to electrical, optical, and superconducting properties of materials for high performance integrated circuits and devices. She discusses founding the Chemical Perspectives of Microelectronic Materials Symposium at the annual Materials Research Society conference to highlight the importance of chemistry in the semiconductor revolution in the context of a multidisciplinary venue. After twenty years at Bell Labs she was selected as the AAAS/RAND Science and Technology Policy Fellow at RAND, conducting studies on the impact of government policies on science and technology workforce issues and technology transition of federally funded research for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. She moved to the Office of Naval Research as Program Officer for the Functional Solid State and Nanostructured Materials Program and currently serves as Program Manager for the Department of Energy, Office of Basic Energy Science's Nanoscale Science Research Centers and Electron Beam Microcharacterization Centers.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0696
No. of pages: 79
Minutes: 522

Interview Sessions

Matthew N. Eisler
16-18 February 2012
Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Abstract of Interview

Mihal Gross begins the interview with a discussion of her family history, her childhood years in Queens, New York as a first generation American and the influences that fueled her wide-ranging interests at the intersections of math, science, engineering, and the arts. After skipping a year and graduating from the Bronx High School at age sixteen, Gross attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). At MIT, Gross' wide-ranging interests led her to explore chemical oceanography, chemical engineering, and materials science, while also enjoying the intense freshman chemistry classes and labs, ultimately leading her to major in chemistry as the central science around which her multidisciplinary interests revolved. Gross' multidisciplinary interests led her to graduate research in organometallic photochemistry at Northwestern University, where she received her PhD in four years. Gross joined AT&T Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey as a Member of Technical Staff in 1981. Her research focused on the emerging areas of chemical vapor deposition, laser and ion beam direct-write, and other aspects of thin film science related to electrical, optical, and superconducting properties of materials for high performance integrated circuits and devices. She discusses founding the Chemical Perspectives of Microelectronic Materials Symposium at the annual Materials Research Society conference to highlight the importance of chemistry in the semiconductor revolution in the context of a multidisciplinary venue. After twenty years at Bell Labs, through numerous corporate transitions, Gross describes moving to Washington, DC to better understand and engage in national science and technology policy. She was selected as the AAAS/RAND Science and Technology Policy Fellow at RAND, conducting studies on the impact of government policies on science & technology workforce issues and technology transition of federally funded research for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. She moved to the Office of Naval Research as Program Officer for the Functional Solid State and Nanostructured Materials Program and currently serves as Program Manager for the Department of Energy, Office of Basic Energy Science's Nanoscale Science Research Centers and Electron Beam Microcharacterization Centers, scientific user facilities located across the country at DOE national laboratories. To conclude, Gross discusses her perceptions of the value and importance of diverse perspectives and backgrounds, as an experimental scientist working to improve communications between disciplines, between research and development, and across industry, government, and academia.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1977 Massachusetts Institute of Technology BS Chemistry
1978 Northwestern University MS Chemistry
1982 Northwestern University PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1974
Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program Research Assistant, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences
1974
Shipboard Research Assistant, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences

Hebrew University of Jerusalem

1975
International Association for Exchange of Students for Technical Experience Fellowship, Department of Geology

Cabot Corporation

1976
Research Assistant

Northwestern University

1977
Research Assistant, Department of Chemistry
1977 to 1978
Teaching Assistant, Department of Chemistry
1978 to 2001
Graduate Research Assistant, Department of Chemistry

Bell Laboratories

1981 to 1985
Member of Technical Staff
1985 to 2002
Member of Technical Staff/Research Supervisor

RAND Corporation

2002 to 2003
AAAS/RAND Science and Technology Policy Fellow

US Office of Naval Research

2003 to 2010

US Department of Energy

2010
Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Program Manager, Scientific User Facilities Division

Honors

Year(s) Award
1995

Chair, Gordon Research Conference Chemistry of Electron Materials

1996

Invited Participant, National Academy of Engineering Frontiers of Engineering Symposium

1995 to 1998

Member, Advisory group to the Vice President of Research, Bell Laboratories

1996

Chair, Advisory group to the Vice President of Research, Bell Laboratories

1997

Bell Laboratories President's Gold Medal for Lucent-NEC Tecnhology Partnership

2016

Elected Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Family background and values. Childhood in Queens, NY. Curiosity, exploration, and working with your hands. Influential children's books. Chemistry magic show. Attending Bronx High School of Science.

College Years
7

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Intense environment. Few women in classes, no women professors. Summer research jobs: MIT's Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), Professor John M. Edmond's chemical oceanography lab; Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Prof. Yehoshua Kolodny's geochemistry lab; Cabot Corporation, polymer analysis.

Graduate School Years
10

Chose inorganic chemistry over chemical oceanography and patent law. Northwestern University Chemistry Department, highly interactive and interdisciplinary environment, Crystallography with Prof. James Ibers, PhD research in organometallic photochemistry with Prof. William Trogler.

Bell Labs
13

Awarded Bantrell Fellowship from California Institute of Technology but accepts job at Bell Laboratories Research. Begins study of chemical vapor deposition (CVD); Gilbert Chin department head. Few women Members of Technical Staff (MTS). Bell Labs culture compared to that of academia. Collaborative and competitive environment. Patents. Publishing freedom. Research inspiration from development and manufacturing challenges. Impact of AT&T divestiture decree on corporate research lab.

Research at Bell Labs
20

Expertise in thin films. Tungsten, conducting tungsten oxide, and CVD in integrated circuits. Interdisciplinary research in industry and resistance to crossing disciplines by academia. Five-year cycle for research areas. Walter Brown. Intellectual property restrictions at AT&T versus intellectual property at other labs. Collaboration. Partnership with NEC, exchange with Japan. SEMATECH. Assessing value of basic science. Technology transition and the Bayh-Dole Act. Twenty years at Bell.

Moving On
35

One year at RAND as AAAS/RAND Science and Technology Policy Fellow for White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Studies on whether there is a shortage of scientists and engineers in the US and the state of technology transition of federally funded research and the effect of the Bayh-Dole Act after twenty years.

Office of Naval Research (ONR)
38

Appointed Program Officer. ONR leadership changed from scientist to Navy Admiral. High-impact multi-disciplinary basic research and technology demonstration programs. Organized interagency group on thermoelectrics. Conceived "Grand Unified Theory of Nanostructure-Enhanced Thermoelectric Performance" from two Multidisciplinary University Research Initiatives (MURI) programs. Decreased Defense funding for fundamental research. Offered guidelines to prospective investigators, later found similar to DARPA's Heilmeier Catechisms.

Department of Energy, Office of Basic Energy Sciences (DOE BES)
43

Appointed Program Manager, Scientific User Facilities Division, for five new Nanoscale Science Research Centers (NSRC) and three Electron Beam Microcharacterization Centers. DOE BES representative to National Nanotechnology Initiative's interagency coordination group. Larger budget and broader disciplinary range than ONR.

Science Outreach
48

Allied Chemical Magic Show inspiration. Organized ONR Fleet Week display of thermoelectrics on Manhattan pier next to USS Intrepid with MIT students. Bell Labs brown bag lunch research talks. Alfred Cho and painting. Walter Brown and Rudyard Kipling's satiable curtiosity. Microwave grape arcing experiment. Trompe l'oeil painting.

Looking Back
54

Understanding impact of national policies. Interpreting data. Inspiration for research ideas. Supporting young scientists. Experimentalists and theorists. Importance of asking questions. Organizing first symposium, Chemical Perspectives of Electronic Materials. Shared instruments and collaborations. Rutherford backscattering spectroscopy (RBS). Focused ion beam irradiation. Friendly competition with IBM. Elected to Board of MRS. Bridge between academic Materials Research Society (MRS) and semiconductor industry's Advanced Metallization Conference (AMC). Chair of Bell Labs Advisory Council on Research. Lucent's "fast follower" policy and demise of research. Inspiration and challenges from development and manufacturing organizations lacking at national labs. Views on interdisciplinary science and its evolution. Experiment in replicating best research labs at Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Farm Campus.

Index
75

About the Interviewer

Matthew N. Eisler

Matthew N. Eisler was a 2004–2005 Ullyot Scholar at CHF’s Beckman Center.