CAMBRIDGE, MA—Small, light and portable describes more than just the latest cell phone, laptop and smart home appliance. The chips and electronics inside today’s high-tech products are shrinking, too.
The pioneers behind the tiny tech trend that’s revolutionized electronics just earned one of the highest honors in their field. The 2020 Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering, endowed by Draper and awarded every two years by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), will be given to Jean Fréchet and C. Grant Willson at a Feb. 19 ceremony.
The NAE says Fréchet and Willson earned the award for inventing a material that makes possible the minute structures that make up today’s semiconductor devices. Just as important is a new form of manufacturing that grew out of their work.
Fréchet and Willson developed a light-sensitive material that makes the polymer layer more sensitive to light, enabling manufacturers to fit more onto computer chips. Today, their discovery of a chemically amplified resist polymer is used to manufacture nearly all of the memory cards and microprocessors in the world.
Engineers continue to benefit from the inventors’ discovery, said Mark Mescher of Draper. “The ability to pattern nanoscale features makes possible the development of a wide spectrum of technologies. Examples are all around us, including its impact on biomaterials, 3D printing and additive manufacturing, wafer fabrication and chemical and electrochemical materials.”
Mescher leads the Materials and Devices Division at Draper, which has developed patented technologies in sensors, atomic clocks, photonics, microfluidics, reactive materials and thermoelectrics.
The strongest customer interest for technology that’s built at the submicron level is for electronics, photonics, biotechnology and newer areas such as driverless cars, he said.
Fréchet is an expert in polymers, well known for his work on dendrimers, separation media, polymer therapeutics and other technologies. Willson is a professor of chemical engineering and chemistry at the University of Texas at Austin, where he focuses on the design and synthesis of functional organic materials with emphasis on organic materials for microelectronics.
The Draper Prize was established and endowed in 1988 at the request of Draper to honor the memory of “Doc” Draper, the father of inertial navigation, and to increase public understanding of the contributions of engineering and technology.
Recognized as one of the world’s preeminent awards for engineering achievement, the Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering honors an engineer whose accomplishment has significantly impacted society by improving the quality of life, providing the ability to live freely and comfortably and permitting the access to information. This year’s recipients will split the $500,000 cash award.