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Jeff Sleight: Life in the Fast Lane

[ photo: Jeff Sleight ]

Life in the Fast Lane

A physics major at Vassar and an URSI fellow in the first year of the program, Jeff Sleight '88 earned his PhD in applied physics at Yale and then began his career in the semiconductor industry at Digital Equipment in the mid '90s. The first project he worked on resulted in a significant technological breakthrough which has since become mainstream--known as SOI, or silicon-on-insulator.

Before SOI, transistors were built on huge chunks of silicon. Sleight and his team at Digital developed a process for building them on silicon dioxide, an insulator, which results in faster processors. "At the time, it was considered fairly revolutionary. People weren't convinced you could actually pull the thing off technically, and there was a huge debate about whether it would even be an advantage to do it. I remember going to conferences and they'd always have the late night discussion sessions and people would speculate about whether anyone would ever actually introduce something like that into manufacturing."

Digital was dismantled and sold off to various tech giants before the project came to fruition. Sleight went to IBM-Fishkill as an advanced development engineer and took up the SOI project where he'd left off and saw it through to manufacturing. "That was actually a lot of fun--to work on something that actually made it into a product," said Sleight. "For every hundred research ideas, maybe 10 make it to development, and maybe one of those makes it to manufacturing. So it was gratifying to make that kind of technical contribution so soon after grad school."

VV Winter 2006
Photo credit: Walter Garschagen