Giving President Obama a Fab Tour (Not just another day at the office)

*** Our guest blogger today, Mark Bohr, is Intel’s Director of Process Architecture and Integration and one of Intel’s eight Senior Fellows, who represent the highest levels of technical achievement within the company. Mark shares his experience meeting President Barack Obama during his recent visit to Intel and giving him a tour of one of our manufacturing facilities. ***

President Obama visited Intel’s Ronler Acres campus in Hillsboro, Oregon on February 18. About a week and a half prior to that I was informed that I was to give him a tour of the D1D fabrication facility (Fab). Wow! I’m normally very reluctant to give up my running time over the lunch hour, but for this I was willing to make an exception.

The fab tour was planned to be just three of us: the President, Intel’s CEO Paul Otellini and me. I thought that was great, a small group would allow me to carefully explain what we do at Intel and answer his questions without a mob around us. A White House staffer mentioned beforehand that a few security people would be with us, but would not interfere with the tour. A “few” turned out to be close to a dozen, and not all were security. It appears the President never goes anywhere without a crowd around him, and perhaps some of the White House staff were excited to see what a semiconductor fab looks like.

Security was very tight on the day of the visit as the White House more or less took control of parts of the RA3 office building and D1D fab where the President would be visiting. Even Paul and I needed to be escorted as we walked through the controlled areas. Around 10 a.m. Paul and I were positioned on the ground floor of D1D waiting for the President’s arrival. Finally we were informed that his motorcade had arrived on campus and shortly afterwards we saw him enter the door. I’ve seen this scene many times on television when the President enters a room, but this time it wasn’t television and I was in the room.

The President immediately walked up to and was greeted by Paul, and then Paul introduced the President to me. The words that came out of my mouth were “Welcome Mr. President”, or so I believe. He looked me right in the eyes, gave me a firm handshake, and said something that is now lost to history. But he does know how to be personable

I then suggested we start the tour, which I began by stating that he was now standing in the world’s most advanced semiconductor fab). The first stop on the tour was an analytical lab on the first floor. This was the one spot in D1D where press and photographers were allowed, but roped off in a corner. I started by explaining how our latest microprocessors use minimum feature sizes of 32nm and for comparison a human red blood cell is about 8000nm in diameter. This factoid clearly impressed him. I then handed him a 300mm Sandy Bridge microprocessor wafer and explained that each microprocessor chip had about 1 billion transistors on it and each wafer has more than 300 billion transistors. At this point the photographers are madly clicking away from behind their rope.

I then introduced the President to Barbara Miner, the manager of D1D’s transmission electron microscope lab. Barbara had the President sit down at the microscope and had him adjust the magnification knob to get a close look at one of our 32nm transistors. Barbara got the image positioned the way she wanted and was able to show the President a magnified image where he could see dots that were individual silicon atoms in our transistors. This image is one that never fails to amaze me.

Next on the tour we went up to the third floor of D1D to see the clean room through the view windows. The first stop was outside the gown room where I explained our multi-step gowning procedure to get into bunny suits. I also explained that we have a staff of approximately 1200 technicianswho run the fab 24/7/365. I mentioned that our technicians each have at least a two-year college degree. I later mentioned that we also have several hundred PhD engineers working in this fab to develop a new generation of process technology every two years that provide transistors that are smaller and faster.

We then walked to another view window that looks down the hallway in the clean room that extends the full length of the fab. The hallway appears to extend to infinity. This time it was the President’s turn to say “Wow!” I stated that D1D has a clean room about the size of 4.5 football fields. I also explained that a wafer has to go through more than 200 individual process steps before it is done, that we use an automated material handling system for moving wafers, and that the many different process tools used in the fab range in cost from 1 to 30 million dollars. Surely by now he was impressed with the scope and complexity of what we do at Intel.

For the last stop on his D1D tour the President was allowed to enter a corner of the clean room without a bunny suit (gasp!). I told him that he was the only person ever allowed to do this. He asked me if he needed to take any special precautions. I smiled back without saying a word. We both knew he didn’t have to worry about this. The purpose of entering the clean room was to record the President’s weekly address.

At this point my role was done and Paul and I led the President out of D1D and into RA3. The first stop was a room where the President met two finalists of a student science fair competition). After talking with these students and posing for pictures, the President walked into another room with a group of high school and seventh grade students, each demonstrating their science fair projects to him. He was very engaged with each group of students, asked questions, and posed for photographs. The next stop was another room where he met the governor of Oregon and the mayor of Hillsboro, and more photographs.

We then entered the back stage area for the room set up for several hundred Intel employees to listen to speeches by Paul and the President. Paul spoke first and made the announcement that Intel was investing in a new fab in Arizona. Then the President entered the room and gave his talk, which was warm and inspirational. Was I the only person in the room without a camera? At the end he came down to the front row to shake everyone’s hand that was within reach. And then he was gone.

His visit to Ronler Acres was less than three hours, but for him it was jam-packed with events. Giving two speeches, meeting and talking with more than a dozen individual people, and having to understand and react to explanations of semiconductor wafer processing and several student science projects. And doing so while cameras are clicking and reporters are taking notes. Impressive. I didn’t have a chance to share my views on deficit reduction and foreign relations with him, maybe next time. But I hope that President Obama was as impressed with Intel as we were with him.

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