Henry I. Smith

Born: May 26, 1937 | Jersey City, NJ, US

Henry I. Smith begins by describing his childhood in New Jersey and his early aptitude in science. After obtaining an undergraduate degree at Holy Cross, Smith earned a master's degree and PhD at Boston College. Smith established a Submicron Structures Laboratory with MIT funding. He concludes the interview by offering some insights on the semiconductor industry, and how to best develop a research culture that stimulates innovation. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0321
No. of pages: 49
Minutes: 212

Interview Sessions

Cyrus C. M. Mody
25 October 2005
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Abstract of Interview

Henry I. Smith begins the interview with a description of his childhood in New Jersey, his early aptitude in science, and his decision to pursue the sciences. After obtaining an undergraduate degree at Holy Cross College, Smith enrolled in Boston College Graduate School to pursue his interest in physics. Upon receiving his master's degree, Smith took a research position at the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratory (AFCRL) in order to fulfill his ROTC requirement. At AFCRL he worked with top scientists and proved himself an able researcher. Smith returned to Boston College following his stint at the Air Force to pursue his PhD. His research in x-ray diffraction formed the basis for his pioneering work on x-ray lithography later in his career. While working at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Smith realized the importance of fabrication technology and submitted a grant proposal to the National Science Foundation for building a national research and fabrication center. Despite his unsuccessful proposal, Smith established a Submicron Structures Laboratory with MIT funding. Migrating to MIT's campus, Smith investigated a variety of lithography methods such as x-ray, conformable photomask, interferiometric immersion-projection, and zone plate array lithography. He concludes the interview by offering some insights on the semiconductor industry, and how to best develop a research culture that stimulates innovation. 


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1958 College of the Holy Cross BS Physics
1960 Boston College MS Physics
1966 Boston College PhD Physics

Professional Experience

US Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratory

1960 to 1963
First Lieutenant

Boston College

1966 to 1968
Assistant Professor of Physics

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1968 to 1977
Staff Member, Lincoln Laboratory
1977 to 1980
Group Leader, Lincoln Laboratory
1977 to 1980
Adjunct Professor of Electrical Engineering
1977 to 2007
Director, Nanostructures Laboratory
1980 to 2007
Professor of Electrical Engineering
1990 to 2005
Keithley Professor of Electrical Engineering


Year(s) Award

Member of American Physical Society


Member of Sigma Xi


Member of Materials Research Society (MRS)


Member of American Vacuum Society (AVS)


Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Fellow


Member of National Academy of Engineering


Member of Optical Society of America (OSA)


IEEE Cledo Brunetti Award


The International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE) Bacus Award

Table of Contents

Family History and Early Life Experiences

Interest in science. Developing hobbies. Understanding chemistry.


Undergraduate degree at College of the Holy Cross. Master's and PhD in physics at Boston College. Research at the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratory. High pressure physics at Boston College.

Career at Lincoln Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Interest in fabrication technology. Origins of nanofabrication. National Science Foundation funding. Influence of Jay Harris leading to proposal for National Research and Resources Facility for Submicron Structures (NRRFSS). Building the Submicron Structure Laboratory with MIT funding.

Career at MIT Campus

Working at Lincoln Laboratory and MIT campus simultaneously. Finding funding.

Professional Development

Organizational cultures conducive to research. Attending Gordon Research Conferences. Feelings toward semiconductor industry.

Concluding Thoughts

Thoughts on different lithography techniques. Cultural obstacles to entrepreneurship in Japan.


About the Interviewer

Cyrus C. M. Mody

Cyrus Mody is an assistant professor of history at Rice University. Prior to that position he was the manager of the Nanotechnology and Innovation Studies programs in the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical and materials engineering from Harvard University and a PhD in science and technology studies from Cornell. He was the 2004–2005 Gordon Cain Fellow at CHF before becoming a program manager. Mody has published widely on the history and sociology of materials science, instrumentation, and nanotechnology.