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Micron Senior Fellow Gurtej Sandhu Earns Prestigious Engineering Award

By: Cienna Madrid   Published 7:00 am / September 27, 2017

Gurtej standing before the patent wall

Sandhu stands before Micron’s patent wall.

There is a long wall located within Boise’s Micron Technology campus on which thousands of patents registered by Micron employees are displayed. The wall is visually stunning; however, upon closer inspection, one name in particular inspires awe: Micron Senior Fellow and Director of Technology Development Gurtej Sandhu.

In his 20-plus years at Micron, Sandhu has patented more than 1,200 new technologies for the company, all related to thin film processes and materials, very-large-scale-integration (VLSI) projects and semiconductor device fabrication. (In fact, he is recognized for being the sixth most prolific inventor in the world based on his number of U.S. utility patents.)

This fall, Sandhu celebrated another milestone when he was presented with the prestigious 2018 IEEE Andrew S. Grove Award, a national award recognizing outstanding contributions to solid-state devices and technology.

“Gurtej has an excellent balance between scientific insight and practical understanding of technology, which has resulted in both concrete product introductions that impact the industry today, as well as new ideas that are leading  the current research direction,” said IEEE fellow Jeff Welser, who supported Sandhu’s award nomination.

The award is presented annually by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) board of directors. Sandhu was honored for his contributions to silicon complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) process technology that enable dynamic random access memory (DRAM) and non-volatile (NAND) memory chip scaling, as well as for his leadership, originality, breadth and inventive value, among other achievements.

For the last 15 years, Sandhu has been a guiding force for Micron’s collaborative efforts with Boise State. He has mentored engineering majors, chaired the Boise State’s Materials Science and Engineering Industrial Advisory Board and Micron School of Materials Board, helped launch the Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering program, written letters of support for faculty submitting proposals for research funding, and even led Micron’s participation in Boise State’s research consortia, through which important science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) research on campus is conducted.

“We’re exceptionally lucky to have a talented researcher and scientist working with our faculty and inspiring our students to perform at their highest caliber,” said Boise State Vice President of Research and Economic Development Mark Rudin. “This award is a well-deserved honor.”

At Boise State University, those achievements can be felt in the classroom, seen within the new Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering, and appreciated by students and faculty alike.

“I consider Gurtej to be a mentor of mine,” said Will Hughes, an associate professor of Materials Science and Engineering and associate dean of the College of Innovation and Design. “Not only has he helped Boise State connect with the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), which has given us access to world-class research we haven’t had in the past, he’s helped ensure we have the resources on campus to utilize and build upon that research.”

“I have always admired Gurtej’s talent of leadership,” said Victor V. Zhirnov, chief scientist at SRC. “He has the rare ability to identify challenging research topics that can be effectively executed in the open university research environment and whose outcomes impact and guide industry product research and development.  His input and advice in SRC university research planning processes is extremely valuable.”

For instance, when Sandhu came across an opportunity to conduct research on how to encode information onto DNA, he brought it to Hughes and Harvard professor George Church – and then put Boise State in touch with the Micron Foundation, which granted seed money to get the project started. As a coauthor, the result is a Nature Materials article that coined the field Nucleic Acid Memory (NAM).

“He helped catalyze an entirely new research direction here at Boise State,” Hughes explained.

“I try to encourage students to explore engineering locally and when I speak nationally and around the world,” Sandhu said in a recent interview.” My job is to get the best and brightest in engineering that we can, and partnering with Boise State allows me to do that. If we raise the profile of the university, attract and train good students, some of those students end up being our employees. This partnership encourages our employees to continue their education as well.”

“Gurtej’s accomplishments are so noteworthy because he’s an amplifier,” Hughes said. “He is an advocate of students and faculty; he is a supporter of Boise State; he is a scientist of the world; and he is a visionary for how our society creates and disseminates our technical advancements and research contributions to the benefit of all.”