In 1970 I was accepted at MIT, Stanford, and Berkeley for college. I transferred my acceptance and Regents Scholarship from Berkeley to UC Santa Barbara. A lesser school compared to Berkeley, on overall grounds, but a more interesting fit to my interests. (College of Creative Studies, with many advantages.)
By around 1972 it was clear the Big Drought was unfolding. Tales of Ph.D.s driving taxi cabs, professors advising that the odds of the then-current Ph.D. candidates getting a real position were dwindling. (Besides the overall downsizing of HEP and other physics funding, there was a glut of physics professors who had been hired in the post-Sputnik boom era….and they were still 30 years or more from retirement.)
Fast forwarding, I decided to not apply to grad school and instead join a small semiconductor company. There, I worked on a bunch of “engineering physics” probems. Because we were the leaders in dynamic RAM memory, I had exposure to some interesting problems. One of them was the mysterious issue of bits sometimes being flipped, but not permanently. In fact, the bit flips were apparently random and occurred only once (or at least close to only once…).
My physics background served me well, as I knew about the physics of how the devices worked (more so than a lot of the EE folks, who thought in terms of circuits), and I knew some geology. I had a brain storm that maybe low levels of uranium or thorium or the like in our ceramic and glass packages were causing the problem. Some experiments confirmed this. And all of the physics calculations about charged particle tracks in silicon matched. A lot of stuff I don’t have the space here to describe.
So my career was launched. Lots of papers on this “soft error” phenomenon. (Oh, and the cosmic ray corrollary was indeed obvious: but in 1978 when the first paper was presented, it was insignificant as a source as compared to alpha particles.)
Instead of spending until 1980-82 doing a Ph.D. and then 4-8 years or more as a post-doc, I had some fun and retired from Intel in 1986.
I’ve been pleasantly able to pursue whatever interested me ever since.
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