Calculated risks and dedication paves path toward IEEE Fellowship

High honor conferred to Anthony Yen, as one of many achievements in a long career driven toward realizing the volume introduction of EUV lithography; important lessons for eager engineering graduates looking to chart a path toward success

The first ASML executive to earn the prestigious title of IEEE Fellow, Anthony (Tony) Yen spent more than 30 years driving toward the creation of ever-smaller integrated circuits.

The IEEE Board of Directors only identifies one-tenth of one-percent of the total voting membership for a potential Fellow title to honor an outstanding record or accomplishments. It is the highest grade of membership and is recognized by the technical community as a prestigious honor and an important career achievement.

Tony started as a passionate and curious electrical engineering student at Purdue University. In his senior year, a famous professor from another well-known university visited and expressed doubts about the feasibility of submicron devices. In those days, “submicron” was the buzz word in semiconductors, as “7 nm” or “5 nm” is today.

This set Tony on a path to prove the “impossible,” conducting his doctoral research on 193 nm lithography at MIT starting in 1985. Here, he proved the technology’s feasibility more than a decade before it was implemented in high volume manufacturing.

Tony as a graduate student at MIT, running an experiment in the Submicron Structures Laboratory, 1988

Academic success eventually led to a career in semiconductors where Tony made a name for himself by growing his technical knowledge, taking risks and remaining dedicated to advancing the frontier of lithography technology.

Tony’s first step outside his comfort zone set him on a path toward disruption and innovation. In 1997, he left market leader Texas Instruments and moved to Taiwan to join a less-known, budding foundry called TSMC. Tony saw an opportunity to expand beyond pure technology development that would include managing people and leading its newly formed lithography R&D group.

“When you’re young, you should take risks. If you succeed, you will advance your technical training and career,” reflected Tony. “It should still be very calculated decisions. I was struck by the team’s determination during my interview at TSMC. They acknowledged frankly that TSMC was behind, but said with equal confidence that it would one day become number one. This was very special to me and I wanted to help make it happen.”

A decade after his first risk, Tony took another leap of faith that turned out to be the most pivotal moment in his career — devoting himself entirely to realizing EUV lithography at TSMC in close partnership with ASML. He wasn’t sure whether it would be successful, but he knew another technology was needed to succeed optical lithography and EUV would be the best possible candidate.

Tony as R&D director at TSMC, contemplating his next step in front of the EUV scanner, 2011

Tony put 100% of his effort into EUV development, taking heed from an old boss who remembered making many technical decisions throughout his career, and acknowledged some were probably not the best. However, once this boss (Tony’s mentor) decided to go in one direction, all the other options became irrelevant because he put all his resources and attention behind his chosen option to make it work.

“In the beginning, data was sparse and good results were ephemeral, but we soon realized that we were in it for the long haul. We dedicated ourselves to gaining more fundamental knowledge alongside solving the daily issues. We gained ground one step at a time,” said Tony. “It’s all about balance and perseverance. We were not there to claim quick victory and dedicated ourselves to finding solutions with ASML, and other key partners and suppliers.”

Tony with the ASML team in the early days of EUV development

Tony joined ASML in January 2017 as vice president and head of worldwide Technology Development Centers (TDC) and continues his pursuit of EUV development today from the inside.

EUV is now in the home stretch with major chipmakers worldwide inserting the technology into volume production into 2019, holding the promise to maintain the rate of miniaturization of integrated circuits for another decade.

“The future is no less bright today for eager engineers looking to be a part of the next big advancement. For example, ASML is now embarking on development for its next-generation high-NA EUV system. Will you help make this new technology work or will you play it safe?”