Rob Rafac | MTS Scientist

Meet Rob Rafac, an MTS (Member of Technical Staff) Scientist who holds his AB in Physics from the University of Chicago and his MA and PhD in Physics from the University of Notre Dame.

As an MT Scientist, Rob works in the Technology Development Group on research that is pretty close to the product.

“I’ve investigated, and in some cases developed, a variety of technologies that are used in our DUV and EUV light sources. I’ve also worked on a number of things that went absolutely nowhere…”

Originally from Chicago Illinois, Rob moved to Boulder, Colorado where he worked for the National Institute of Standards and Technology as a National Research Council Postdoctoral Associate doing basic research in atomic physics. Working in the Ion Storage Group, a part of the Time and Frequency Division of NIST, Rob was responsible for the nation’s time-interval standards as well as related basic research.

“The Ion Storage Group works on atomic clocks and items related to quantum computing using trapped ions as a basis. After my NRC contract ended, I remained at NIST to see the project through, employed by CU-Boulder which operates a joint institute with NIST called JILA where a lot of great physics is done. At least a half-dozen current and former employees of Cymer all come through NIST and JILA – but I think I was the first.”

“After I finished the two postdocs at NIST and JILA in Boulder, I was kind of burned out so I went on an around-the-world trip for two years. At the beginning of that trip I spent about three months living in San Diego in a friend’s mom’s backyard, really doing nothing but surfing four to five hours a day. That made an impression – seemed like a good place to be! When I returned to the US, I came back to San Diego because I had friends there, a place to live, and some hope of helping to launch a startup that never really full started. That’s another story..”

After moving back to San Diego, Rob saw a number of listings for Cymer jobs on the internet and applied for three positions but didn’t hear anything back. At some point, an employee of Cymer at the time, Tom Duffey (who at the time was the manager for the Technology Integration group) heard about Rob through another independent channel not related to his applications, and they had a phone interview. Rob was hired into Tom’s team shortly afterward on April 22 of 2002 where he started in DUV and moved to EUV in 2011.

With 15 years in the semiconductor industry, Rob has around 30 to 40 patents in the space.

“Because Cymer is always trying to innovate very rapidly, we generate and capture a lot of intellectual property, especially so in earlier years.”

“It’s the teamwork at Cymer that makes it great, especially in the face of trying to do things that sometimes seem nearly impossible. Even the engineering activities can be really formidable and even though we have good reason to believe we’ll be successful, sometimes it requires a lot of perseverance. In that way even being in the factory at Cymer has a lot in common with some of the more intense academic/government research groups I’ve worked in.”

“If a person who is coming from a research background and is unsure about what switching to this industry might be like, I’d reassure them by telling them that the people at Cymer are top-notch and you can find that same kind of stimulating environment here just the way you might find it in a more academic setting. If you enjoy really challenging work – and being a major part of the engine that drives Moore’s Law is really challenging – you’ll like it here at Cymer.”

Outside of work, Rob surfs a fair amount and recently took up mountain biking after a 15 year break.

“I like the outdoors and exploring. I have a few other random hobbies too, that mostly involve making little things that involve technology like racing drones and old computers from the early 1980s.”

Fun facts about Rob?

“I’ve always been naturally curious and liked science and technology, but it’s a bit surprising to me that I turned out to have physics as a career. I ended up with an undergraduate physics degree because it needed the fewest number of credits to complete. I was kind of all over the place with random classes in strange subjects so physics ended up as the only major I could really string together at the last minute and still graduate on time. Then I went to physics graduate school mostly so I could keep going to Grateful Dead and Phish shows, which I had been doing a lot of during college. Grad school wasn’t quite as ‘flexible’ as I thought, but my adviser was accommodating and most years I could still have at least a month off in the summers driving all over the country going to concerts and festivals – tons of fun!”