University of Delaware
Office of Public Relations
The Messenger
Vol. 5, No. 3/1996
Perfecting a probe for microelectronics

     Daniel van der Weide, assistant professor of electrical
has been called a rising star in his department, but his approach
to research is very down-to-earth.
     With grants from the Office of Naval Research, the Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Ford Motor Co., the
researcher says he is trying "to do things that are industrially
     In graduate school at Stanford University, van der Weide was
part of an electrical engineering group with an applied physics
emphasis that
concentrated on breaking speed records for electronics.
     "We developed circuits for the world's shortest,
electrically generated and detected pulses," he says. "In
ultrafast electronics, a nanosecond [one-billionth of a second]
seems like an eternity," he explains.
     Today, his research interests have expanded to include
building ultra-small instruments for acquiring images that are
otherwise invisible. Working with scanning probe microscopes, his
goal is to build an integrated-circuit probe that can
simultaneously sense both voltages and topography-on the scale of
mere molecules-and present the data as an image.
     He likens it to a blind person's cane that simultaneously
could detect touch and, say, temperature.
     "Billions of dollars have been spent developing integrated
circuits for computer technology, but there are very few tools
that can be used to map
out the function of an integrated circuit as it's operating," he
     "With the explosion of technology ushered in by
microelectronics, it's becoming possible to build circuits on the
scale of large molecules, but it's very difficult to test them.
You can't get a conventional oscilloscope probe in there. So,
that's what we're working on."
     It's interesting to note that van der Weide almost didn't go
to college, let alone to graduate school.
     "After high school, I saw college only as a way to get a
higher paying job and climb the corporate ladder. I had notions
of farming instead."
     Coming from a small Iowa high school that didn't offer
calculus, van der Weide chose to major in electrical engineering
and, eventually, to minor in Latin at the University of Iowa,
because of the challenges and opportunities they offered.
     "I got into electrical engineering largely through playing
around with old appliances," he says. "I was the kind of kid who
was always behind the phone company and stores, looking for old
phones, televisions and toasters to fool around with."
     Although his undergraduate engineering career was punctuated
by several summer positions in California's Silicon Valley, van
der  Weide found history repeating itself upon graduation.
"I wasn't really prepared for graduate school," he recalls.
     But, after working full-time in industry for a year, he
entered Stanford and, after graduation, worked as a postdoctoral
researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Solid-State Research
in Stuttgart, Germany.
     Summer employment opportunities with such firms as Hewlett-
Packard and full-time work with Motorola and Watkins-Johnson are 
what really sealed his interest in electrical engineering, 
van der Weide says. They left him with a drive for industrial 
relevance in his research and a belief that what really matters 
in research is people.
     Keeping him grounded, he says, is his wife, Katrine, and his
family, none of whom is "snowed by technology."
     "They keep reminding me that what's most important in life
are human relationships. Engineering is really a people business,
and success depends on enjoying your work and getting along with
the larger community."
                                            -Beth Thomas