I have received over 256 utility patents in the United States— Cyprian Uzoh

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Senior Technologist at Tessera and Former Engineer / Consulting Scientist at IBM, Cyprian Uzoh, speaks to JOY MARCUS on his passion for technology

As a Senior Technologist at Tessera, what are your main responsibilities?

My primary responsibilities are to conduct research on advanced chip packaging and cabling technologies for high performance semiconductor applications found in various mobile devices, as well as in consumer data centers and industrial.

What are some of the problems in the tech sphere and how have you successfully solved them?

The issues are always how to create a better user experience with electronic devices. These experiences may involve smaller, faster devices that consume less power for longer battery life. However, there are devices that produce less heat and are also more reliable. But globally, time to market is one of the primary criteria for short-term success. Sometimes the most important step is to invent, and then the assigned inventor in the different fields will control the intellectual properties that he is free to use, license or sell.

What are some of the challenges often associated with being a Senior Technologist at Tessera?

Some of my concerns and challenges are how we can stay relevant in the market; how we can remain a valuable asset to our customers and how we can win in the global market with our ideas and products.

What are the most urgent changes you would like to see in Nigeria when it comes to technology?

I would like to see changes in security, in terms of an open environment that brings out the best in people, as well as educational institutions that can compete on a global scale. We also need competitively priced electricity at industrial volumes and a competitive industrial transport system.

What sparked your interest in technology?

I was one of those restless children with almost insatiable curiosity. I always wanted to know why and how things were done. I remember asking awkward questions of adults and it made those around me think I was destined to be a great lawyer. When I was in elementary school I had a great teacher who was the first to activate my talent. He somehow discovered that I hated memorizing; thus, he encouraged me and often rewarded my correct logical answers to his question. It was one of the foundations of my analytical and synthetic skills.

What schools did you attend?

I attended Ebenezer Primary School at Salvation Army Road in Ibadan, but completed my primary school at St. Peter Clavers in Nnewi. For my high school education, I went to Christ the King College in Onitsha. Then the Federal Ministry of Education offered me a scholarship in 1974 to study metallurgy outside Nigeria. My experience of my various engineering and non-engineering professors during my undergraduate studies in Wisconsin taught me the value of good industrial experience. After school I was offered a job at PRODA Enugu but felt very uncomfortable going back to Nigeria to work without any industrial experience. My future boss at the time, Mr. Mbanugo, agreed with me that an industrial experience in the United States would be beneficial for PRODA. I also attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York, for my graduate studies as a member of NASA.

Can you remember how and when you started your career?

My career path began when I was quite young with the help of excellent teachers who guided my development. The foundations of my career were laid unconsciously by my mother and my elementary 4 teacher in Sagamu, Ogun State. At the University of Wisconsin, I helped my professors – Richard Heine and Carl Loper – in the lab, marking tests and exams. At Rensselaer, my postgraduate research focused on advanced composite materials. However, my professional career began as an engineer / consulting researcher at the IBM TJ Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York.

Since you are a recipient of a government scholarship, are you doing anything to give back to Nigeria?

I devoted part of my weekends to work related to bacteriology and entomology with my partner. We have developed methods to significantly suppress the local fly population. This technology will hopefully be transferred to Nigeria in the not too distant future. I haven’t lived in Nigeria for most of my life, but my contributions to the scientific and industrial world have been a major source of pride for many Africans around the world.

What was your most trying moment as a young scientist?

As a young scientist, I was frustrated that many of my findings were not appreciated for the first seven years. Another IBM engineer; an avid inventor from IBM Burlington, Vermont, visited me and as we chatted in my office he was surprised that I had actually developed solutions to some of the problems in our industry. He then informed me that the solutions would make great inventions and that my difficulties were partly due to jealousy and political reasons. With this new knowledge, I was better prepared to deal with my objections to the Invention Disclosure Committee. In addition, in 1993 our company, IBM, was in a deep financial crisis and our new CEO, Louis V. Gerstner, laid off more than 55,000 people. So, the new Disclosure Review Board deeply appreciated my research and began to recommend filing intellectual property to protect IBM’s interests.

You need to set goals for yourself. How far did you go to reach them?

What seems to have worked for me is the need to constantly improve my own work and that of others, conceptually and experimentally. I have conducted fundamental experiments in various fields, such as composite materials and the application of x-rays to print images of chip design, thin film processes, solar cells, semiconductor chip wiring, semiconductor stacking and more recently in biotechnology. I have received over 256 utility patents in the United States of America. In many ways, especially as a Nigerian, this achievement is most fascinating and extraordinary when you consider the fact that the average number of patents granted to an inventor is around five. For the record, more than 30 million inventors have been listed in the United States Patents and Trade Office since its inception. From the above, an inventor with 50 patents would be off the curve in terms of statistical distribution. From a simple calculation, the odds for over 250 utility patents are actually less than 15 parts per million and that puts me in a very special class of prolific inventors in the world.

What are the highlights of your career?

My first assignment as my manager at the TJ Watson lab was to reduce damaging defects in very thin silicon membranes. After some groundbreaking work, I eliminated these damaging flaws and reduced the typical time to make a membrane from eight hours to five hours. Shortly thereafter, I built a batch reactor for the routine manufacture of five to ten of these membranes in shorter times. Nominally, the dimensions of the silicon membrane are 25 mm x 25 mm and 2 microns thick. With my new methods, I was able to manufacture large membranes 90 mm in diameter. This basic research later became the forerunner of today’s MEM devices in our cell phones. As a result of my work in x-ray lithography, IBM offered me a job as a scientist / consulting engineer, a full time position. My responsibility was to develop the next generation technology to wire devices into silicon itself. My research involves manipulating chemicals on different surfaces and inducing the growth of metallic films, preferably faster from the bottom of very small holes rather than the sides. For the first time, submicron horizontal and vertical transmission lines have been fabricated in silicon insulating layers without damaging defects. In 1997, IBM released the first silicon devices wired with copper. One of the rewarding aspects of this technology was that it was cheaper, faster and more reliable than the traditional aluminum it replaced. In addition, in 2006, myself and some of my colleagues at IBM Corporation received the 2006 New York Intellectual Property Law Association “Inventor of the Year” award for the invention of transformational technology. . Incidentally, this singular invention is one of the most valuable inventions in semiconductor history.

What were your childhood ambitions?

I have a lot of beautiful childhood memories. I was an avid kite maker when I was little. My mother was convinced that I would be a great doctor. Then in Form 1 at CKC, I came across a book, The Chemicals of Life, by Isaac Asimov. He described the book in layman’s terms as the chemistry of human blood, enzymes, hormones, and the mysteries of biochemistry. At that time, I knew that chemistry, physics, math, and biology should be part of my life, but my quiet dream then was to have a graduate degree in biochemistry and medicine.

Who are your role models / mentors?

I actually have several mentors but my parents are number one. My teacher in primary 4; my director, Father Nicholas Tagbo; my maternal uncle, VCI Anene; my academic advisers, Professor Richard Heine; and Carl Loper, who guided my development at the University of Wisconsin at Madison; my graduate advisor, Professor Russell Diefendorf, who has given me all the freedom and encouragement essential to developing my investigative skills, are people who have had a significant impact on my life. Finally, I am eternally grateful to Dr. Juan Maldonado who engaged me from school in the exploratory life to IBM’s research headquarters.

What are your other interests?

I love the creative arts. I like to engage young children in discussions to hear how they think and what I can learn from them. I am also interested in our environment; especially in environmentally friendly technologies. Me and a few friends spent a few weekends doing work related to bacteriology and entomology.

How did you meet your wife?

I was introduced to my wife by my younger sister and was drawn to her daring.

How do you relax?

I find reading or driving in the country very relaxing and I enjoy creative work; I wish I could paint. For music, my taste is rather eclectic. I love our traditional music. I am a big fan of Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Stephen Osadebe. Music and good books add a good flavor to my being.

How do you like to dress?

I prefer to wear casual clothes all day. However, I dress professionally for important meetings and conferences.

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