YMC Meets... Professor Bill Milne FIMMM
Dr Matthew Cole spoke to Professor Bill Milne FIMMM about his impressive career.
Tell me about your background and your career to date
Following my PhD, I worked for three years as a Researcher and then Senior Researcher at the Plessey Research Centre, Caswell. I first worked on novel diffusion processes in silicon integrated circuits, and then on high radiance light emitting diodes for optical communications. In 1976, I was lucky enough to be appointed to an Assistant Lectureship in Engineering at the University of Cambridge and remained here until I officially retired in September 2015.
My research in Cambridge began with work on the growth, characterisation and use of amorphous silicon and on its application to thin film transistors. This made for a useful guide and in the late 1980s I began my work on carbon-based electronics, looking at amorphous carbon and, specifically, diamond-like carbon for device applications. Work on carbon nanotubes quickly followed and, most recently, we have been looking at the production and electronic applications of graphene and related materials.
What are the biggest challenges you have seen in the carbon sector?
There has been too much hype associated with many of the emerging one and two dimensional materials, especially the nanocarbon materials. From the 1980s and the appearance of the fullerenes, into the 1990s and 2000s, carbon nanotubes were all the rage and there is no doubt that graphene and other similar materials also have much to offer the scientific and engineering communities. The amount of national and international support pumped into these materials is fantastic and this will certainly help accelerate their development.
Nevertheless, the wider community needs to realise that although graphene will undoubtedly prove useful across a range of applications, there needs to be some healthy realism as well. For example, in order for such materials to be useful for many of the electronics applications being touted, a reproducible and industrially compatible method of producing high quality material still remains to be found and, perhaps more pressingly, integrated into foundries and truly put to the test in a challenging industrial context. This challenge may not be particularly glamorous, but is nevertheless critical industrial context. This challenge may not be particularly glamorous, but is nevertheless critical if these materials are to underpin some next generation technologies - which they likely will, at least in one guise or another. Issues relating to single chiral carbon nanotube growth is another particularly challenging issue to be resolved alongside other various technology orientated obstacles still to be overcome in the carbon based electronics area.
What do you think is the most exciting area for exploration at the moment?
Quantum-based computation is particularly interesting. It will change the face of computation as we know it, and I am very interested in seeing how the technology will develop over the next few years. Perovskite solar cells have also attracted much attention of late with extremely high efficiencies, but of course there are still stability problems to be solved. Another research area that seems to be making very positive progress is the field of nano-bio and the use of emerging nanomaterials in novel cancer therapies. I find the work carried out by Stanford University, USA, really fascinating. With our ageing population, improved diagnostics and treatments for cancers are going to become even more critical. As with much of the materials world, there is a huge range of exciting science being conducted worldwide, but there remains an underpinning need for the supporting engineering and core infrastructure development if we are to realise viable solutions to the major challenges facing society as a whole.
What advice would you give to an engineer in the early stages of their career?
Pursue the things that you enjoy and don't be afraid to ask stupid questions - they are often the best ones.
About Professor Bill Milne FIMMM
Professor Milne was Head of Electrical Engineering at the University of Cambridge from 1999-2014, and director of the Centre for Advanced Photonics and Electrics (CAPE) from 2005-2015. In 1996, he was appointed to the 1944 Chair in Electrical Engineering. He obtained his BSc from the University of St Andrews, Scotland, in 1970 and then went on to a PhD in Electronic Materials at Imperial College London. He was awarded his PhD and DIC in 1973 and in 2003 a DEng (Honoris Causa) from the University of Waterloo, Canada.
He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2006 and was awarded the JJ Thomson medal from the Institution of Engineering and Technology in 2008. He was also given the NANOSMAT prize in 2010 for excellence in nanotechnology. His research interests include large area Si and carbon-based electronics, graphene, carbon nanotubes and thin film materials.
Most recently he has been investigating MEMS, SAW and FBAR devices and SOI-based micro heaters for (bio) sensing applications. He has published/presented around 900 papers in these areas, of which about 200 were invited. He co-founded Cambridge CMOS Sensors with Professor Julian Gardner from the University of Warwick and Professor Florin Udrea from University of Cambridge, and in 2013 co-founded Cambridge Xray Systems with Dr Matthew Cole and Richard Parmee, University of Cambridge.