Lyn Swanson to receive prestigious award
Longtime McMinnville resident Lyn Swanson, who taught applied physics at Linfield College and did groundbreaking work with the Linfield Research Institute and Field Emission Corporation, will be honored with a prestigious award Sunday at an international science conference.
Swanson, whose work helped make microchip technology possible, will receive the prestigious Heritage Award at the opening of Pittcon 2014, the annual gathering of the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy.
Pittcon is a not-for-profit educational corporation that encompasses the Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh and Society for Analytical Chemists of Pittsburgh. Its annual conference draws 20,000 scientists from industry, academia and government circles in 90 countries.
Swanson will be the 13th winner of the Pittcon Heritage Award, which honors individuals who have “shaped the scientific instrumental community, inspired achievement, promoted public understanding of the modern instrumentation sciences and highlighted the role of analytical chemistry in world economies.”
According to the Chemical Heritage Foundation, the McMinnville man is being honored for “his establishment and leadership of one of the world’s largest instrument companies, as well as his landmark development of liquid-metal ion sources.” The foundation said Swanson “personally pioneered the commercialization of advanced electron- and ion-beam sources for electron microscopy and focused ion-beam instruments.”
The Pittcon Heritage Award is by no means Swanson’s first honor.
He was named Scientist of the Year in 1993 by the Oregon Academy of Science. He represented the U.S. in a scientific exchange in Russia and earned a NASA new technology award. In 2005, he was given the Howard Vollum Leadership Award, the Oregon Graduate Institute’s highest honor, which recognizes “exceptional vision, leadership and generosity.”
Swanson grew up in California. He became fascinated with chemistry while an undergraduate at the College of the Pacific, which he attended on a football scholarship. He went on to graduate studies at the University of California-Davis and the University of Chicago, earning a doctorate.
While at Chicago, he did postdoctoral work with a professor researching field emissions.
That’s the process by which electrons are extracted from a cathode, either thermally or through applications of a high electric field, Swanson said. The discipline combines physical chemistry, surface science and applied physics, he said.
Swanson came to McMinnville in 1959 for a field emissions symposium. There, he met Walt Dyke, founder of the Linfield Research Institute, one of the country’s leading centers for field-emission work. Two years later, Swanson joined the LRI team.
“Chicago was just doing basic research,” Swanson explained in a 2005 News-Register story. “LRI was involved in applications, in looking at potential commercial uses.”
When Dyke founded Field Emissions Corp., Swanson became its director of basic research.
Hewlett-Packard bought FEC in the early 1970s, by which time Swanson had returned to the classroom. He spent 1968 through 1973 teaching at Linfield, serving as a dean of faculty and leading undergraduate field emissions research.
He later moved to the Oregon Graduate Institute of Science and Technology. In addition, he founded his own company, Field Electron and Ion, in partnership with Noel Martin and Lloyd Swenson.
In the 1980s, FEI became a major supplier of electron and ion sources for the tech and semiconductor industries. Along the way, the company created a focused ion beam for Intel’s use in microelectronics work.
“When the semiconductor industry started talking in terms of nanometers (one-billionth of a meter), people needed tools to visualize that and create things,” Swanson said in the 2005 story. “We had the technology ready at the right time.”
In 1987, Swanson left teaching to run FEI fulltime. He took the company public, then merged it with the electron microscope division of rival ion-beam instrument producer Philips.
FEI eventually became a leading producer of scanning and transmission electron microscopes, dual-beam instruments that combine focused ion beams with electron microscopy, and other analytical detectors. Although Swanson retired as CEO in 1998 and as chairman in 2002, he continued to conduct research for the company.
Swanson has served on a number of boards, including that of the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. He and his wife, Karin, raised four children in McMinnville and continue to make their home here.