Feature Stories 

Dr. Kevin P. Thompson Selected to Receive A.E. Conrady Award 

Gabe Moretti, Contributing Editor

Dr. Kevin P. Thompson of Synopsys is the 2013 recipient of the A. E. Conrady Award, which is given annually by SPIE in recognition of exceptional contributions in design, construction, and testing of optical systems and instrumentation. The recognition of this award is based on developments of new equipment, techniques, and applications for designing, testing, analyzing, and/or evaluating optical systems, components, and theories.

Dr. Thompson presenting an optical engineering talk at a recent CODE V User Group Meeting in Rochester, New York.
Dr. Thompson presenting an optical engineering talk at a recent
CODE V User Group Meeting in Rochester, New York.

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. The Society serves more than 235,000 constituents from approximately 150 countries, offering conferences, continuing education, books, journals, and a digital library in support of interdisciplinary information exchange, professional networking, and patent precedent. SPIE provided over $3.2 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2012. SPIE presents several yearly awards that recognize outstanding individual and team technical accomplishments and meritorious service to the Society.

Dr. Thompson received the award in recognition of his efforts to develop a complete aberration theory for imaging optical systems called Nodal Aberration Theory, which applies to rotationally nonsymmetric optical systems. He created the theory in the 1970s, working with Prof. Roland Shack at the University of Arizona. Dr. Thompson and Prof. Shack discovered nodal aberration field properties as a result of star images from the Kitt Peak telescope in Tucson, Arizona, which exhibited previously unrecognized aberration behavior.

Since then, Nodal Aberration Theory has been applied to a variety of optical applications, ranging from helmet-mounted displays to IC manufacturing. The technology is integrated in Synopsys’ imaging optical design product, CODE V. Accurately delivering UV light to a photomask is challenging and today's EUV machines use six off-axis mirrors to deliver an image of the mask to the IC wafer. Nodal aberration techniques allow clear understanding of the needs for the mirror alignment to accurately deliver the light beam that creates the wafers.

Dr. Thompson, who is also a visiting scientist at the University of Rochester’s Institute of Optics, discovered that his work on Nodal Aberration Theory can be applied to an emerging revolution in optics: freeform optical surfaces. Until recently, telescopes and photographic cameras used in-line barrel assemblies to house the lenses. The new technology of freeform surfaces allows various shapes of optical surfaces beyond spheres and rotationally symmetric aspheres to produce freeform imaging optical systems that can be configured into new 3D packages. Freeform manufacturing techniques are just now being perfected and much scholarly and applied research work is dedicated to developing such systems. Nodal aberration techniques allow engineers to design and develop optical systems in entirely new configurations with significantly extended performance. Dr. Thompson is leading the way in determining how and where to use the myriad of new parameters made available as a consequence of the introduction of freeform manufacturing technology. Soon we will have optical systems packaged not in barrels, but in spherical balls, as an example.

The role played by optics in manufacturing modern ICs is often neglected or marginalized in discussing the problems related to the fabrication of chips using leading-edge processes. Given the hundreds of billion of dollars needed to develop and implement new exposures techniques, UV light has remained the tool used in photolithography. When talking about techniques to be used at 20 and 14 nm processes, triple and even quadruple exposures are required to produce working features. Just the optical system in an IC lithographic machine costs up to $10 million, so the impact of the technology becomes quite evident.

Recognizing the importance of photonics to IC design and implementation, Synopsys in 2010 acquired Optical Research Associates (ORA) and purchased the RSoft Design Group in May of 2012. Dr. Thompson is Group Director, Research and Development of Synopsys’ Optical Solutions Group (OSG). The vast majority of OSG’s customers are outside of the traditional IC design market. One could then question the wisdom of entering a new market that requires solutions that do not directly use electronic parts or that have nothing to do with electronic engineering. It is clear, though, that both major optical systems manufacturers use products and services of OSG and that some of their products are integral parts of IC making machines deployed at leading edge foundries. In addition, the use of optical networks on chips using MEMS is also increasing. The fundamental question that Synopsys answered in establishing OSG is: what good is it to be able to design and develop very complex ICs requiring billions of transistors if they cannot be manufactured? After all, EDA companies are businesses and thus must see some utility for their products in order to realize profits.

Dr. Thompson will be presented with the A. E. Conrady Award on August 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the SPIE awards banquet, in conjunction with the 2013 Optics and Photonics Conference to be held August 25 - 29 in San Diego, California. Synopsys will also showcase their portfolio of optical software solutions in booth #1116 at the conference. To schedule a demo at the booth or to register for technical conferences, sessions and presentations, please visit: http://optics.synopsys.com/events/spie-optics-photonics-2013.html

Related links:
http://optics.synopsys.com/learn/learn-intro-optics-design.html
http://www.synopsys.com/Tools/OpticalDesign/Pages/default.aspx