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Profile: John Coburn


Dr. John Coburn

Department of Chemical Engineering,
University of California, Berkeley



Dr. Coburn's technical background has centered around the area of materials processing using  glow discharges. He began his work at the IBM Research Laboratory in San Jose, CA studying rf sputter-deposition processes using mass spectrometry. This led to the development of a method for the elemental analysis of solids known as Glow Discharge Mass Spectrometry (GDMS). In the mid-70s with his IBM colleague Dr. Harold Winters, he began a study of plasma etching and reactive ion etching processes which, at that time, were just beginning to be considered for pattern transfer and stripping processes in integrated circuit manufacturing. The focus of this work was on the mechanisms involved in this very complex plasma-chemical process and an emphasis was placed on the surface science aspects. These studies continued for almost 20 years until both Dr. Coburn and Dr. Winters retired from IBM in 1993. Some of the highlights of these studies involved the role of energetic ion bombardment in reactive ion etching, the mechanism for obtaining good SiO2/Si selectivity, proposing actinometry as a supplement to optical emission spectroscopy for the characterization of etching plasmas, and an investigation of plasma potentials in capacitively coupled rf discharges.

After his retirement from IBM, Dr. Coburn spent a year at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Solid State Physics (Freiburg, Germany) as an Alexander von Humboldt Senior Scientist. He consulted with a group developing processes for fabricating high speed electronic devices using III-V materials such as GaAs, InAs, InP, etc. At the time Dr. Coburn retired, IBM donated his research apparatus to the University of California at Berkeley, specifically to the group of Prof. David Graves. Since his return from Germany in mid-1994, Dr. Coburn has been a part-time Research Associate in the Dept. of Chemical Engineering at Berkeley collaborating with Prof. Graves and his graduate students. Here the research focus is still in the area of plasma etching and reactive ion etching currently emphasizing surface-related processes and plasma diagnostics. During the 1996-97 year, Dr. Coburn worked as a half-time consultant for Micron Technology, Inc (working at home) as a member of the Micron Advanced Research Institute. The focus of this activity was patent disclosures and contact and via etching in silicon oxides. Also during the period since his retirement from IBM, Dr. Coburn has worked with various law firms in patent-related matters and is currently affiliated with Lucas Instruments, Los Altos Hills, CA in this capacity.

In 1980, Dr. Coburn began teaching a technical education course in Plasma Etching and Reactive Ion Etching for the American Vacuum Society. Over the years he began teaching for other sponsors as well as on-site presentations at industrial organizations both in the U.S. and abroad. This teaching activity continues to this day. The course is now a 2 or 3-day presentation and Dr. Coburn has presented it over 200 times to an estimated five thousand people.

      Ph.D (Electrical Engineering)The University of Minnesota, 1967
      M.A.Sc. (Physics)The University of British Columbia, 1958
      B.A.Sc. (Engineering Physics)

      The University of British Columbia, 1956

      Post-doctoral Fellowship (Physics) , Simon Fraser University1967-1968
      Research Staff Member and Manager at the IBM Research, Laboratory in San Jose, CA1968-1993
      Alexander von Humboldt Visiting Scientist at the Fraunhofer, 
      Institute for Applied Solid State Physics in Freiburg, Germany
      Senior Research Associate in the Department of Chemical Engineering,
      University of California at Berkeley, CA
      Adjunct Fellow at the Micron Advanced Research Institute, Boise, ID (working at home)1996-1997


      Gaseous Electronics Conference Foundation Lecture

      AVS John A. Thornton Memorial Award (co-winner)               1993
      Alexander von Humboldt Society Senior Scientist Award                        1993
      AVS Honorary Member                                             1991
      Tegal Corporation Thinker Award (co-winner)                       1983


      American Vacuum Society,1970-present             

      - AVS President, 1988
      - AVS Board of Directors, 1984-85; 1987-89
      - AVS Board of Trustees (Chair 96-97), 1986; 1995-97
        - AVS Treasurer, 1999-2006
      - AVS Northern California  Chapter Treasurer,  1993-present
      - Short Course Instructor, 1980-present


      Approximately 110 publications in technical journals, book chapters, invited reviews, etc.