NUtech Award: John Woollam
NUtech Ventures presents the Dr. Prem S. Paul Innovator of the Year award to John Woollam. Woollam, an internationally known expert in ellipsometry and a member of the faculty since 1979, is also is founder and president of the J.A. Woollam Co., a university spin-off that has emerged as a worldwide leader in the production of spectroscopic ellipsometry instrumentation. Spectroscopic ellipsometry is a process that uses reflected polarized light to detect properties of materials and make precise measurements of films that are only an atom or two thick.
Dr. Woollam holds numerous patents, many co-owned by J.A. Woollam Co. and University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is a Fellow in the National Academy of Inventors.
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[00:00:02.210]A conference room at the J.A. Woollam Company
[00:00:04.820]is wallpapered with plaques displaying patents
[00:00:07.930]that stem from innovation.
[00:00:10.110]We're submitting, I think it's 200th.
[00:00:13.230]So that's a large number for a company of only 60 people
[00:00:17.020]and 30 years in business.
[00:00:19.180]The J.A. Woollam Company is a leader
[00:00:21.510]in spectroscopic ellipsometry
[00:00:23.750]serving clients around the world.
[00:00:26.170]The company's instruments and software
[00:00:28.380]are used in the process of making everything
[00:00:30.910]from solar cells and energy-efficient windows
[00:00:34.020]to smartphones and TVs.
[00:00:37.040]Ellipsometers measure the properties of thin films,
[00:00:40.260]critical to electronics manufacturing and other industries.
[00:00:44.240]They have so many processes
[00:00:45.700]in making circuitry now,
[00:00:47.720]and a large number of those steps use an ellipsometer
[00:00:52.230]so that they know that they're doing it correctly.
[00:00:54.410]If you make a mistake partway through it,
[00:00:56.330]it can ruin a very, very expensive,
[00:00:59.600]large wafer containing hundreds of chips
[00:01:02.120]that'll then go into your computer.
[00:01:04.270]At his Lincoln facility, history is on display,
[00:01:07.410]starting with the ellipsometer Dr. Woollam used
[00:01:10.110]as a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
[00:01:13.280]That's where the idea of starting a company took hold.
[00:01:16.930]I did research at the university
[00:01:19.290]with this instrument from 1981
[00:01:22.710]until we developed automated equipment
[00:01:25.380]that's much faster and more accurate.
[00:01:27.610]Over decades, there have been improvements
[00:01:29.800]by employees like design engineer Griffin Hovorka.
[00:01:33.040]He says the company and his boss
[00:01:35.020]have had a huge impact on the industry.
[00:01:37.650]It's hard to look up ellipsometry
[00:01:39.990]and not have John Woollam show up pretty early
[00:01:42.620]on that list of results.
[00:01:44.760]Griffin's first job with J.A. Woollam
[00:01:46.780]was as a college intern.
[00:01:48.550]The company continues to have a strong relationship
[00:01:51.140]with the university.
[00:01:52.610]Dr. Woollam is on the faculty, still teaches,
[00:01:55.570]and the company shares equipment and hires graduates.
[00:01:59.250]They come to us knowing what the customer needs
[00:02:03.060]better than anybody because they worked in it for years
[00:02:05.970]as part of their dissertations and theses.
[00:02:08.950]So it's a real synergism with the university.
[00:02:11.740]You can see the connection.
[00:02:13.830]For Dr. Woollam,
[00:02:14.900]it's always been about the people.
[00:02:17.330]He remembers the guy he interviewed
[00:02:19.060]who talked about building motorcycles from the ground up.
[00:02:22.203]Hey, my kind of guy.
[00:02:25.820]The biggest part of what I do is,
[00:02:27.640]all the way from the beginning,
[00:02:28.890]is looking for people with a good work ethic
[00:02:32.160]and people that would get a kick out of what they're doing.
[00:02:36.530]And that's what gives me great joy,
[00:02:38.760]is if they like what they're doing,
[00:02:41.040]then I have fun,
[00:02:42.160]and then they're learning things at a fast rate,
[00:02:45.290]digesting them, and then able to teach me,
[00:02:48.300]then that's really fantastic.
[00:02:49.904]What could be better?
[00:02:51.750]It's really clear that the company
[00:02:54.780]really cares about its employees.
[00:02:56.620]When he takes a break,
[00:02:57.670]Dr. Woollam heads outdoors to go sailing
[00:03:00.310]or shoot some of the photographs
[00:03:01.770]that grace the walls of his business.
[00:03:03.980]His love of the outdoors is matched by the dedication
[00:03:07.560]to building a company that makes a difference
[00:03:10.180]for his customers and his employees.
[00:03:13.240]We're helping them develop their capabilities,
[00:03:15.840]which is, to me, is just the joy of teaching.
[00:03:18.755]I mean, that's really what it's all about.
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