Jacqueline van Veldhoven

"From sea mines to semiconductors, only TNO can do that!" Jacqueline van Veldhoven is a researcher in the nano-instrumentation department at TNO. She originally came to TNO to work on combating sea mines, but now has work that is closer to her PhD research: to find out how lithographic machines in the semiconductor industry can continue to produce cleanly.

"My department's main field of work is contamination control for the semiconductor industry. The companies in this sector always work on the edge of what is possible to produce ever smaller and faster microchips. Nevertheless, there's always a possibility that the optics of the machines get dirty. Just one particle of dust on the chip and it won't work.

Even worse is a dust particle on the mask pattern, because then all the chips don't work. Molecular growth on the optics used can also disrupt the manufacturing process. It's our job to find out how to prevent that particle and molecular contamination. And if that turns out to be impossible, what other measures can you take?

To answer these questions, we are constantly testing materials. There is no other way, because of the constant influx of new materials and machines. This makes it difficult to predict which measures will have an effect. And so our work is mainly about experiments. In our lab we mimic as many of the conditions as possible. Like gas and plasma conditions - one of my tasks is to characterise the plasma that is released."

Our latest pride and joy

"For a few years now, we have been able to simulate even more conditions, because our latest pride and joy is a setup that can make extreme ultraviolet light, one of the most important tools of the lithographic machines we work on. Together with colleagues I am working on this test setup, in which we expose material in a vacuum to extreme ultraviolet light. Our analysis method allows us to examine the top layer of the material: which atoms are there and which desired and undesired compounds are there?”

In search of societal relevance

"I studied physics in Nijmegen before undertaking doctoral research, among others at the Max-Planck-Institut in Berlin. Immediately after that I started working at TNO. First in a completely different department: Underwater Technology. Where they are involved in, among other things, combatting sea mines.

How did I get to Nano-instrumentation? Well, at the Christmas party, I got to talking to my boss's boss. It turned out that he was in charge of both departments! He offered to show me around and I was immediately fascinated. And also, this place looked more like the work I did during my research study.

After my PhD I decided that I didn't want to stay in the academic world. I was looking for more societal relevance. I went looking for work at technology institutes like TNO, although I hadn't ruled out a job in industry. But the advantage of TNO is that you have so many possibilities. Look at me! From sea mines to semiconductors! That could never have happened in industry. It's unique that you can make such a transition within the same institute."

Always focused on the practical solution

"TNO uses scientific methods to solve a customer's question. Here we are very conveniently positioned between the academic and the industrial world – and that is exactly where our added value lies. We are always focused on finding a practical solution to the problem, although we also have a long-term perspective. Of course, we are foreseeing things in the industry that will soon be needed, and we're doing research into that as well."

Personal development

"TNO also pays a lot of attention to personal development, especially within the talent development programme, which includes very good courses. We work in an environment with beta scientists, so not everyone is used to talking about themselves. You will be assigned a mentor to whom you can always turn. But first you have to know what you want to ask! These courses help you to get to know yourself better and to set your limits. You have to, because the pressure is high and you identify with your work. TNO wants you to take proper care of yourself."

Nice and smooth

"Sometimes you have one of those days when everything just comes together. It's experimental science, so sometimes it's quite nerve-racking. You think to yourself: It has to happen today! And if it works and everything runs nice and smooth, that gives you a lot of satisfaction. I'm now active as a scientist at TNO and don't think I'm going to change my role completely.

I don't see myself becoming a department manager or a project manager any time soon. I like the content of my field the most, I always come across new things. And it also helps enormously to have a few people in the department who have been there longer and have experienced the history."

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