Profile of a Scientist: Qing Cao

Qing Cao, recently named one of Forbes30 under 30 in Science and Healthcare for his work on carbon nanotubes, has also filed 9 patent applications in his young IBM career of four years. Inspiration comes in many forms for all IBMers who have contributed to IBM’s 20 years of patent leadership.

Qing shares his thoughts about what inspires him.

Which IBM patent do you think is the most significant? Why?

Qing Cao:  I think the disclosure about using glassy carbon as a precursor to form a carbide contact to carbon nanotube FETs (field effect transistors) in a self-aligned fashion is incredibly significant. At a 5 nm technology mode – which is the target for nanotube technology to enter production – contact is critical for device performance.

This invention, where we utilize glassy carbon (a common material in microelectro-mechanical systems (MEMS) but not in microelectronics) as a dummy contact to nanotubes can significantly improve the quality of contact between the electrode and high density carbon nanotube arrays, since carbon has a high affinity with carbon. In addition, glassy carbon can be converted to metal carbide. Together with underlying nanotubes, this allows the adoption of a self-aligned process to fabricate these tiny devices. 

Carbon nanotubes have the potential to lead to smaller and faster microprocessors, and reduce power consumption – essentially keeping up with Moore's Law.

Has there been an invention, inventor or patent that has inspired you?

QC: Yes. For example, the patent I mentioned above is inspired by an old IBM patent (US #7,598,516). In addition, as a new IBMer, I benefit from working with those experienced inventor at the Thomas J Watson Research Center. For example, many of my patent ideas come from discussions with IBM Master Inventor Dr. Shu-jen Han.

What wisdom can you share about creativity, inspiration, problem solving or invention?

QC: As the old Chinese saying goes, “stones from other hills may serve to polish the jade of this one” – meaning that the old method and wisdom from other areas may help to overcome big problems in your own field.

Do you have rituals or habits for finding inspiration?

QC: Many of my creative ideas actually emerge during my commute. Talking with colleagues is another major source of good ideas.

What advice do you have for hopeful inventors?

QC: Don’t restrict yourself to your own project or research area. Explore other areas and collaborate with colleagues, and creative ideas and inventions will come naturally.

It is fun to solve problems and it is exciting to be the first person to demonstrate something useful.

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