David Graves joins faculty and will head new research for plasma applications

Friday, May 8, 2020
by Jeanne Jackson DeVoe, for the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

David Graves has been appointed professor of chemical and biological engineering, and named to lead a new research enterprise at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. He will explore plasma applications in nanotechnology for everything from semiconductor manufacturing to the next generation of super-fast quantum computers.

Graves, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, since 1986, is an expert in plasma applications in semiconductor manufacturing. He will become the first associate laboratory director for Low-Temperature Plasma Surface Interactions at PPPL, effective June 1. His CBE appointment begins July 1. He will likely begin his new position from his home in Lafayette, California, in the East Bay region of San Francisco.

He will lead a collaborative research effort to not only understand and measure how plasma is used in the manufacture of computer chips, but also to explore how plasma could be used to help fabricate powerful quantum computing devices over the next decade.

“This is the apex of our thrust into becoming a multipurpose lab,” said Steve Cowley, PPPL director, who recruited Graves. “Working with Princeton University, and with industry and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), we are going to make a big push to do research that will help us understand how you can manufacture at the scale of a nanometer.” A nanometer, one-billionth of a meter, is about ten thousand times less than the width of a human hair.

The new initiative  will draw on PPPL’s expertise in low temperature plasmas, diagnostics, and modeling. At the same time, it will work closely with plasma semiconductor equipment industries and will collaborate with Princeton University experts in various departments, including chemical and biological engineering, electrical engineering, materials science, and physics.  In particular, collaborations with PRISM (the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials) are planned, Cowley said. “I want to see us more tightly bound to the University in some areas because that way we get cross-fertilization,” he said.

Graves is retiring from his position at Berkeley at the end of this semester. He is currently writing a book (“Plasma Biology”) on plasma applications in biology and medicine. He said he changed his retirement plans to take the position at PPPL and Princeton University. “This seemed like a great opportunity,” Graves said. “There’s a lot we can do at a national laboratory where there’s bigger scale, world-class colleagues, powerful computers and other world-class facilities.” 

“Exciting new direction for the Lab”

Graves is already working with Jon Menard, PPPL deputy director for research, on the strategic plan for the new research initiative  over the next five years. “It’s a really exciting new direction for the Lab that will build upon our unique expertise in diagnosing and simulating low-temperature plasmas,” Menard said. “It also brings us much closer to the university and industry, which is great for everyone.”

The staff will grow over the next five years and PPPL is recruiting for an expert in nano-fabrication and quantum devices. The first planned research would use converted PPPL laboratory space fitted with equipment provided by industry. Subsequent work  would use laboratory space at PRISM on Princeton University’s campus.  In the longer term, researchers in the growing group  would have brand new laboratory and office space as a central part the Princeton Plasma Innovation Center (PPIC), a new building planned at PPPL.  

Physicists Yevgeny Raitses, principal investigator for the Princeton Collaborative Low Temperature Plasma Research Facility (PCRF) and head of the Laboratory for Plasma Nanosynthesis, and Igor Kavanovich, co-principal investigator of PCRF, are both internationally-known experts in low temperature plasmas who have forged recent partnerships between PPPL and various industry partners. The new initiative builds on their work, Cowley said.

A priority research area

Research aimed at developing quantum information science (QIS) is a priority for the DOE. Quantum computers could be very powerful in solving complex scientific problems, including simulating quantum behavior in material or chemical systems. QIS could also have applications in quantum communication, especially in encryption, and quantum sensing. It could potentially have an impact in areas such as national security. “A key question is whether plasma-based fabrication tools commonly used today will play a role in fabricating quantum devices in the future,” Menard said. “There are huge implications in that area,” Menard said. “We want to be part of that.”

Graves is an expert on applying molecular dynamics simulations to low temperature plasma-surface interactions. These simulations are used to understand how plasma-generated ions, atoms and molecules interact with various surfaces. He has extensive research experience in academia and industry in plasma-related semiconductor manufacturing. That expertise will be useful for understanding how to make “very fine structures and circuits” at the nanometer, sub-nanometer and even atom-by-atom level, Menard said. “David’s going to bring a lot of modeling and fundamental understanding to that process. That, paired with our expertise and measurement capabilities, should make us unique in the U.S. in terms of what we can do in this area.”

Graves was born in Daytona Beach, Florida, and moved a lot as a child because his father was in the U.S. Air Force. He lived in Homestead, Florida; near Kansas City, Missouri; and in North Bay Ontario; and finished high school near Phoenix, Arizona.

Graves received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Arizona and went on to pursue a doctoral degree in the subject, graduating with a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 1986. He is a fellow of the Institute of Physics and the American Vacuum Society. He is the author or co-author of more than 280 peer-reviewed publications. During his long career at Berkeley, he has supervised 30 Ph.D. students and 26 post-doctoral students, many of whom are now in leadership positions in industry and academia. 

A leader since the 1990s

Graves has been a leader in the use of plasma in the semiconductor industry since the 1990s. In 1996, he co-chaired a National Research Council (NRC) workshop and co-edited the NRC’s “Database Needs for Modeling and Simulation of Plasma Processing.” In 2008, he performed a similar role for a DOE workshop on low-temperature plasmas applications resulting in the report “Low Temperature Plasma Science Challenges for the Next Decade.”

Graves is an admitted Francophile who speaks (near) fluent French and has spent long stretches of time in France as a researcher. He was named Maître de Recherche (master of research) at the École Polytechnic in Palaiseau, France, in 2006. He was an invited researcher at the University of Perpignan in 2010 and received a chaire d’excellence from the Nanoscience Foundation in Grenoble, France, to study plasma-graphene interactions.

He has received numerous honors during his career. He was appointed the first Lam Research Distinguished Chair in Semiconductor Processing at Berkeley for 2011-2016. More recently, he received the Will Allis Prize in Ionized Gas from the American Physical Society in 2014 and the 2017 Nishizawa Award, associated with the Dry Process Symposium in Japan. In 2019, he was appointed 'foreign expert' at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China. He served as the first senior editor of IEEE Transactions on Radiation and Plasma Medical Science.

Graves has been married for 35 years to Sue Graves, who recently retired from the City of Lafayette, where she worked in the school bus program. The couple has three adult children. Graves enjoys bicycling and yoga and the couple loves to travel. They also enjoy hiking, visiting museums, listening to jazz music, and going to the theater.

PPPL, on Princeton University's Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, N.J., is devoted to creating new knowledge about the physics of plasmas — ultra-hot, charged gases — and to developing practical solutions for the creation of fusion energy. The Laboratory is managed by the University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the largest single supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.