2019 Distinguished Merit Awardee: Zhiyong Ma


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Zhiyong Ma received his PhD from Materials Science and Engineering in 1994, conducting his research as a member of Professor Les Allen’s group. Prior to coming to Illinois, Dr. Ma received his bachelor’s degree from Shanghai University in 1984 and masters in Materials Science and Engineering from Purdue in 1990. 

“Working for a very driven assistant professor can be a plus. I was Prof. Allen’s first PhD student. Both he and I had very clear motivations. I wanted to be out on time while he needed a tenure. I was lucky enough to get all the attentions from Les. We worked together on the experimental designs and we discussed and revised papers together. We saw each other 7 days a week,” said Ma. “Les is results driven, a bit impatient, and very adept at quickly translating something conceptual to simple apparatus. His group developed some of the unique research capabilities for studying nanoscale materials. We all benefitted greatly from his very demanding training. One thing worth to be brought up is that Les gave me the free rein to define my thesis project and allowed me to pursue other research interest and collaboration. This had not only helped develop my research style but also expanded my research scope and adaptability.”

Currently, Ma is with Intel as Vice President of their Technology and Manufacturing Group and Director of their Technology and Manufacturing Labs. Ma is responsible for all aspects of labs operation in support of silicon and assembly technology development and manufacturing, product fault diagnostics, and silicon and platform benchmarking.

“My training at MatSE laid down a very solid foundation for my career in semiconductor industry. I especially appreciated the unique interdisciplinary collaborative research environment within CSL (coordinated science laboratory) and MRL (materials research laboratory).  It promoted very productive collaborations and led to numerous scientific breakthroughs. I still use some of methodology I learned then to my organization whenever I can.”

Additionally, Ma is engaged with universities around the Pacific Northwest, helping sponsor research, hosting technical workshops, and helping students and faculty grow. Ma is an active member and currently co-chair of the AVS topical conference on Frontier for Characterization and Metrology for Nanoelectronics with NIST and IMEC.

For current students, Ma has this advice: “Follow your passion, be curious. Getting a degree is less important than developing all the necessary skills to become a competent, adaptable researcher or technologist for tomorrow’s challenges. Machine learning, artificial intelligence, and autonomous driving rely heavily on continued advancement of computing power. The future of nanoelectronics is all about materials innovations. You are definitely in the right field and have a very bright future.”

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This story was published November 18, 2019.