Christopher M. Luczynski
Senior Associate Engineer
MS, Applied Mathematics
I work in the mask house for IBM Microelectronics That doesn't mean a whole lot without knowing what a mask is, so here is a brief explanation. A mask is much like a photographic negative is to a picture. When you want to build a computer chip you create what is called a photomask. It is a glass plate that has the design pattern for one level of a chip on it. The chip manufacturers take the mask and shoot a laser or electron beam through it, and the pattern is etched onto a photoreactive substance. After this is done for several different layers, you have a chip!
My job is as a process/product engineer. Before the chips can actually be built, there is a lot of data manipulation and design work that takes place. Designers send over the data which maps out how to build the chip, but often there are last minute changes or small problems that arise. It is my job to be sure that these changes are still manufacturable and that any problems are worked out before building the mask. This may include visual inspections of chip data, working with customers or just making sure that certain processes were followed correctly. This becomes more fascinating when you consider that most masks deal with patterns that are under one micron thick!
I also do some development work. When new technologies are developing, we often need to make test masks which have certain patterns on them which are intended to test the abilities of our writing tools. So I get to sit down and build these test masks. This is my favorite part of working in the mask house since I get to do the programming myself and I am immediately able to see the results of my work being built.
I never knew that I wanted to work in a mask house when I was studying math in college. The truth is, I never even knew what a mask was until I interviewed for my job! All through college and graduate school I taught mathematics. As an undergraduate at North Adams I conducted tutorial sessions in trigonometry, calculus and physics. And when I got to graduate school in Vermont I was teaching actual classes in some of those areas while tutoring students in the evening.
I thought for sure I would be a teacher. But for me it was also very important to be able to see the applications of mathematics, not just the numbers. My mathematics background was invaluable to me as training for my career because it shaped the way I think about problems and honed my ability for analytical thought. I may not be cranking out integrals on a regular basis anymore, but the process behind it definitely helped to shape me.
Oh, and I haven't given up teaching. Though I work full time in the mask house, I am also an evening mathematics instructor at Community College of Vermont. There are just some things you don't give up.