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NTHU Alumnus Douglas Yu Wins Presidential Science Prize
“The best technology is the kind that you make yourself!” This is the idea that motivated Douglas Yu to develop a 0.13-micron copper process technology and invent wafer-level advanced packaging technology. Currently the vice president of the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), Yu has received nearly a thousand patents in the United States, and has helped Taiwan become a global leader in semiconductor technology. In recognition of his many achievements, Yu has been awarded this year’s Presidential Science Prize. A graduate of NTHU, in his speech at the award ceremony, Yu said, “I do search just like I go fishing, because I enjoy doing it. And if you are lucky, you can catch a few big ones.”
 
Yu also stressed the importance of doing things differently, rather than simply aping others, and that when you need something, it’s better to do it yourself, since this brings the best results. Nonetheless, Yu also recognizes the importance of modesty, saying, “I'm just lucky to win the award on behalf of TSMC."
 
A man with a mission
 
Yu’s “luck” came about through a long process of overcoming countless difficulties. Yu joined TSMC during the 0.25 micron era, when there was fierce competition with other companies to develop a smaller version. This was the mission entrusted to Yu by TSMC’s new director of research and development. By solving each of the five main problems blocking the way, Yu succeeded in developing a 0.13-micron copper process technology.
 
TSMC initially considered buying the 0.13-micron copper process technology from IBM, but finally decided to develop the required technology on its own, even though its competitors chose to buy it. "No problem. As long as the company needs it, I will deliver it," was Yu’s gung ho attitude at the time. Leading a team of less than 40 people based in Tainan, for a year and a half Yu experimented with materials that were very different from those being used by their competitors. During this time the first thing they did every morning was to hold a meeting to get updated on the competition’s progress.
 
As to why Yu was able to be getting ahead of the competition and making rapid progress in an area that so many bright minds were already working on, Yu said that the key is to eliminate uncertainty and avoid dead ends.
 
In Yu’s way of thinking, which he learned from TSMC founder Morris Chang, a high degree of uncertainty leads you down lots of dead ends. So in a situation with lots of uncertainty, it’s best to gain some clarity by doing small experiments to avoid the “dead ends.”
 
An Interdisciplinary approach
 
In fact, it was during his studies at NTHU that Yu acquired a solid foundation in research and development. After earning his bachelor’s degree from the Department of Physics, for his master’s degree he shifted to the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, about which he said, “While studying physics, I did more thinking than doing; and when I began studying materials science, the habit of deliberation helped me understand things better than some of my classmates who had been studying materials science all along.”
 
Thinking back on this period, Yu said, “This was a very important stage in my development. The teachers at NTHU were highly dedicated, especially Prof. Lee Yee-Yen and Chiang Heng-Ching, and this made a deep impression on me.” He remembers Professor Lee as a young, erudite scholar with lots of enthusiasm and a deep-seated sense of mission, who personally compiled Chinese-language teaching materials for his students. Chiang was the Chair of the Department of Physics and in addition to teaching frequently helped his students after class. Yu said that even though he may not remember everything he learned at that time, what has stayed with him is the dedication and enthusiasm of his teachers.
 
Diligence, not toil
 
People often ask Yu if he finds the work environment in the high-tech industry to be toilsome and overly demanding. He tells them that it’s definitely demanding, but not excessively, as long as you are self-motivated and enjoy what you’re working on, which is something he learned during his time at NTHU.
 
After completing his master's degree, Yu began studying for a Ph.D. in materials engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, which provided him with a scholarship. During his five years at Georgia Tech he also studied various related subjects, including electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, statistics, and management.
 
Yu, who grew up in a small town in northern Taiwan, said that during the early part of his studies and career, he often felt like a country bumpkin on the defensive and worried about not being able to keep up with his talented colleagues. However, rather than giving in to his doubts, he eventually rose to the top of his field by continually encouraging himself to work harder and strive for excellence, and by being daring enough to think outside the box.
 
An exemplar of gratitude
 
In light of Yu’s outstanding contributions to the global IC industry and the NTHU spirit, the College of Science has lauded him as a distinguished alumnus. Moreover, in recognition of his major donations to NTHU, he has been made a member of the Tsing Hua Club One Hundred (THCOH). He hopes to one day teach an innovative course at NTHU focusing on the cultivation of wholesome values as a way of helping students finding their ways to make a positive contribution to society.
 
After hearing that Yu had won the Presidential Science prize, NTHU President Hocheng Hong said that Yu’s many achievements and modest demeanor make him an exemplary alumnus worthy of emulation by the entire NTHU community.
 
President Hocheng also said that Yu’s innovative approach to research and development clearly benefited from his cross-disciplinary experience at NTHU, and that Yu is a fine example of the thousands of NTHU graduates now employed in Taiwan’s world-class high-tech industry.
 
The copper process technology developed by Yu’s research team has helped Taiwan become a major player in the world semiconductor industry.

The copper process technology developed by Yu’s research team has helped Taiwan become a major player in the world semiconductor industry.

NTHU alumnus Douglas Yu, winner of the 2017 Presidential Science Prize.

NTHU alumnus Douglas Yu, winner of the 2017 Presidential Science Prize.

Yu as a student at NTHU.

Yu as a student at NTHU.

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