Oral history interview with Thomas E. Everhart

  • 2007-Mar-28
  • 2011-May-03

Thomas E. Everhart’s oral history begins with a discussion of his work with the scanning electron microscope (SEM). Everhart talks about Gordon E. Moore’s contributions to the electronics world. He describes his time as president of California Institute of Technology (Caltech). At the end of the first session, Everhart discusses his admiration for Moore.

His second interview starts with his childhood in Missouri. He discusses his family, hobbies, and school. He talks about work, the Methodist Youth Fellowship, where he met his future wife, and his desire to go to Harvard.

Everhart entered Harvard University and shortly after starting was offered the Gerrish Scholarship, for all four years. At Harvard he played intramural basketball; was active in the Wesley Foundation; helped found the Crimson Key Society; and became engaged. He majored in physics, helped set up laboratories, but had no opportunities for research. After graduation he went to University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) for a master’s degree, in conjunction with Hughes Aircraft Company, where he focused on applied physics and engineering. There he first began working with electron beams. For his PhD he went to Clare College, University of Cambridge, funded by Marshall Scholarship, and working in Charles W. Oatley’s lab. His dissertation dealt with SEM contrast formation, observed voltage contrast across P-N junctions, and explored potential applications.

PhD in hand, Everhart became an assistant professor of electrical engineering at University of California, Berkeley. Initially working on microwave tubes. With Donald O. Pederson and Paul L. Morton, they founded the first integrated circuit (IC) lab. During his years at Berkeley, Everhart consulted for Watkins-Johnson, Ampex, Westinghouse Research Laboratories, and Hughes Aircraft Company. He took leave to help Oliver Wells build a SEM at Westinghouse Research Labs. He built his own SEM, the first with transistorized circuits. He had funding from the Air Force, the National Institutes of Health (NIH); and from the National Science Foundation (NSF). He also progressed to full professor and then to chairman of the electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) department. While he was chairman of EECS, the NSF wanted to establish an accessible microfabrication facility. Berkeley did not take advantage of this opportunity, instead the lab went to Cornell University.

Everhart left Berkeley to become Dean of Engineering at Cornell University. He felt he greatly improved the engineering college’s morale, faculty, and financial position. During his tenure, the Knight Laboratory, the Snee building, and the Pew Engineering Quadrangle were dedicated. He worked on the advisory committee for the submicron facility, funded by NSF. After six and a half years at Cornell, Everhart was offered the chancellorship of the University of Illinois. There he started new programs, helped get personal computers for faculty, and improved the facilities for semiconductors. He also encouraged the founding of the Beckman Institute.

After three years, Everhart was chosen to be president of Caltech, a position he held for ten years. At Caltech he was also on the advisory committee for micro devices at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Throughout the interview Everhart explains his relationships with many scientists and their work. He remains amazed by the speed of evolution of transistors to integrated circuits and he exclaims over the continued validity of Moore’s Law.

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