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Intel Employees: Nabil Mistkawi impresses President Obama

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Guest blogger: Rob Kelton from Intel's Internal Employee Communications Team

So who is Nabil Mistkawi?

No one embodies the saying “No pain, no gain” better than Nabil Mistkawi.

For the last four years, the Technology Manufacturing Group (TMG) engineer has slept little, worked full-time, and raised three young children with his wife—all while earning a 4.0 grade point average and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry and material sciences in 2010.

A typical day for Mistkawi, 41, went something like this: work a full day in Portland Technology Development’s Wet Etch Path Finding Group, grab some coffee, return to cube to write late into the night on his doctoral dissertation, sometimes skip sleep, and then do it all over again.

But most of us at Intel know him not as a newly minted Ph.D. but as “that guy” President Barack Obama called out as a testament to hard work and education during the President’s February 18 visit to Ronler Acres.

Stories like Mistkawi’s “give me hope,” declared President Obama.

So what is Mistkawi’s story?

The gain through pain

The gain for all that hard work has been his and Intel’s: A Ph.D.; nine patents; the invention of a chemical solution that helped enable Intel’s 45 nanometer (nm) process technology and has saved Intel millions of dollars; another chemical formulation he developed for our 32 and 18 nm processes; an Intel Environmental Excellence Gold Award; an Innovation in Technology Award; and his own 15 minutes of fame in the form of personal congratulations from President Obama.

“The support of family, friends and colleagues helped make the impossible, possible,” said Mistkawi, who joined Intel in 1993 and received tuition reimbursement from Intel for the Ph.D. he earned from Portland State University.

A solution is the solution…

Most of President Obama’s remarks about Mistkawi were about his inventing a new chip wet-etching process that removes a layer of metal on 45 nm chips without damaging the other metal layers or other tiny, delicate structures.

“…In fact, before I came here, I read a story about a young University of Oregon graduate. His name is Nabil Mistkawi, and he joined Intel as an engineer in 1993.

Within three days—three days—he came up with a solution that is now saving this company millions of dollars a year. And I will not embarrass myself by trying to explain what his answer was—(laughter)—and most of you probably know how it works anyway. (Laughter). The point is, an investment in education paid off in a big way—for Nabil, for Intel, for the millions of workers and consumers who benefited from that discovery.

So for all the daunting statistics about our educational failings as a nation, for all the naysayers predicting America’s decline—you’ve been hearing them lately—stories like this give me hope…”

(Read the President’s full Feb. 18 speech on “Winning the Future.”)

For nearly a year, suppliers and vendors and research labs could not figure out a way to strip the metal layer selectively. Then a TMG senior principal engineer who was also Mistkawi’s mentor and dissertation co-advisor, asked Mistkawi if he wanted to give it a shot.

It took him just three days to invent his breakthrough chemical solution.

“I had to look at the problem from a different viewpoint,” said Mistkawi. “I had lots of experience in etch at Intel. I could not follow the path of others and had to follow my own.”

Intel adopted his solution and process across our 45 nm factories in 2007, which use about 6,000 gallons of MD 66 every week. For his accomplishment, he received Intel’s Environmental Excellence Gold Award in 2005. In 2010 his Ph.D. dissertation was one of three selected out of hundreds across U.S. and Canadian universities to receive the Western Association of Graduate Schools’ Innovation in Technology Award.

Mistkawi said, “I’ve always liked the Robert Noyce quote, ‘Ideas are a dime a dozen but the ones that survive and make it to high volume manufacturing are the great ones.’”

‘The Secret Service is looking for you!’

One day before President Obama made it to Ronler Acres, Mistkawi received several urgent e-mails and a phone call from Oregon communications manager asking him to answer a few questions. At the same time the technical assistant to TMG leader Bill Holt, told Mistkawi’s cube mates to find him immediately. Mistkawi’s colleagues sent him text messages telling him some important people—including the Secret Service—were looking for him joking, “you might want to hide.”

“I was panicked when (she) found me in a conference room,” recalled Mistkawi. “Then she said, ‘This is a good thing, not a bad thing.’”

Mistkawi spent 20 minutes on the phone with the President’s speechwriter and the next morning received a copy of the speech. He also received prime seating for the President’s speech in Ronler Acres.

Nabil Mistkawi was called out by President Obama for innovative work in our manufacturing world. Mistkawi was later interviewed by reporters.“It was a great honor,” added Mistkawi about the President addressing him and then shaking his hand and congratulating him. “Very humbling. President Obama told me how proud he was of me and congratulated me on my Ph.D. So did Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and he told me, ‘Oregon is proud of you.’”

Not a one-hit wonder

As quiet and unassuming as Mistkawi is, he still wants people to know he’s not a “one-hit wonder.”

He and a fellow engineer Erica have since developed another wet etch formulation/process enabling our 32 nm process technology, reducing chemical waste by more than 84 percent and saving Intel about $45 million per year.

“I could not have done any of this over the past few years without support from my mentor and managers,” said Mistkawi. “It’s great to be at a company like Intel with a culture of discipline and results orientation. I’m hoping to continue to contribute to Intel’s advanced technologies.”