Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Women In Tech: Award Winning Chip Scientist Kelin Kuhn

Posted by Tom Foremski - April 7, 2014

 

Intel Fellow Kelin Kuhn

By Intel Free Press 

Though it has been more than a decade and a half since she left the “publish or perish” world of the university, Kelin Kuhn is still writing papers and award-winning ones at that.

Kuhn, who is an Intel Fellow for the company’s Technology and Manufacturing Group and director of advanced device technology, was recently presented with the IEEE’s Paul Rappaport Award. The award recognizes the best paper annually in a publication of the IEEE Electron Devices Society.

Kuhn says, her paper “Considerations for Ultimate CMOS Scaling” is about “all the intricate things we have to worry about when we build super advanced short channel devices.”

She’s also an IEEE Fellow, has received a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award for her work on strained layer III-V materials and has published numerous papers in technology journals. 

Some facts about Kuhn: 

Leaving tenure behind…

In 1997, after a decade at the University of Washington, Kuhn left her tenured position as an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering to join Intel.

Why leave a coveted job with the freedom to work on anything she wanted? Kuhn uses an analogy to explain the move.

“At a point in your life you find you have done all the things you wanted to do,” Kuhn explained. “It’s not a checklist really but a sense of achievement in that phase of your life, and you say, ‘I’ve done that; I’ve read that chapter. I need to go to a new chapter.’”

Pawn shops help teach students…

Kuhn’s favorite class she taught while at University of Washington was consumer electronics.

It used to be, Kuhn explained, that a kid could tear apart a consumer electronic device — a radio, for example — and the function of every piece could be understood. That experience largely dropped out of the culture by the time she started her faculty position in 1987 due to the widespread use of integrated circuits, which made the underlying technology all but invisible.

And yet to Kuhn, a fundamental part of being an engineer is the understanding that “everything is made of smaller things, and those things are made of smaller things yet.”

So the class was created to illustrate this, involving companies and consumer products of that era such as VCRs, DVD players and tape recorders — often obtained from local pawn shops. “We tore stuff apart for the first five weeks of the class, and as a project the students put something else together by repurposing it. Repurposing electronics is a great way to do development work.”

She added that engineers need to understand that technology is not mysterious. “People don’t think about how a cell phone works. They don’t think about what is behind the wall plug.”

She keeps sharp with a violin…

After hearing an Oregon neurologist lecture on the power of learning a musical instrument to keep the brain sharp, Kuhn was intrigued. “The brain constantly makes brain cells and constantly reconfigures. But if you don’t give it something new to do, it won’t do that. You have to always be learning,” Kuhn said.

The violin — or the fiddle, as she tends to refer to it — made sense, she jokes, since it was portable and wouldn’t damage her teeth. And it allowed her to learn to play the Irish jigs and reels she loves.

Kuhn related that beginning the violin as an adult has its challenges, “not the least of which is watching the 5-year-olds scampering around with their tiny violins, all playing better than I do.”

A flight for rocks…

Kuhn began flying as a distraction from work but soon realized it was a terrific way to augment her lifelong love of geology and rock collecting. “I found one of the things I really loved about flying was it was a way of seeing geology from the air,” she said. She flies a high-wing aircraft (a Cessna 152 II Sparrowhawk) because it is easier to see the ground.

On her most recent sabbatical from Intel, Kuhn began writing a book on the geology of the Pacific Northwest, which she sees as one of the most geologically diverse areas in the world, describing, “majestic stratovolcanoes, massive shield volcanoes, huge plateau basalts and fabulous fossils buried in ash hills.”

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