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Frances A. Houle

physical chemist: Chemical Sciences Division

Media contact: Lynn Yarris, (510) 486-5375,


From a foundation of physical chemistry, surface science, thin film science, chemical kinetics and kinetics modeling techniques, Frances’ research program has addressed the need for rigorous chemical and physical studies of condensed phase materials processing methods that have technological importance or promise, but limited scientific foundation. Areas of study include semiconductor etching, chemical vapor deposition of metals, thin film oxidation, polymer imaging and dissolution, and in-situ photopolymerization.

A consistent theme is how processes work, thus pointing to both fundamental knowledge as well as a path to improvements. The systems studied are realistic and complex rather than simpler analogs in order to assess the influence of structural disorder and chemical complexity on the outcomes of the chemical reactions.

Many of these studies have required construction of new instruments and techniques (eg molecular beam mass-phase spectrometry, fracture dynamics as a probe of polymer viscoplasticity) and software algorithms (thermal and chemical kinetics simulations), and development of new experimental and modeling methods (eg interferometric lithography coupled to simulations for nanoscale chemistry investigations) in order to extract the required information from these systems.

The results of this research point to opportunities for deeper scientific investigations, particularly in nanoscale phenomena, as well as technological innovations.

After completing a post-doc at UC Berkeley, Frances joined the IBM Research Division in San Jose, California and had research programs in semiconductor, metal and polymer thin film and interfacial chemistry relevant to semiconductor device fabrication, and stochastic simulation methods for computational process kinetics modeling.

At startup, InVisage Technologies, Inc., she served as Manager of Materials Development and was responsible for the nanoparticle film used in novel CMOS image sensors.

Frances is very active in professional service, including the Council, Executive Board and Panel on Public Affairs of the American Physical Society, the Editorial Committee of the Annual Reviews of Physical Chemistry, Associate Editor of the Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology, Chair of the Electronic Materials and Processing Division and member of the Board of Trustees of the American Vacuum Society, and a member of the Selection and Scheduling Committee of the Gordon Research Conferences. She was also a member of the panel that wrote the American Physical Society/Materials Research Society report on Energy Critical Elements, and the committee that revised the National Academies publication “On being a scientist”, a handbook for professional ethics.

Recent Publications

Over 125 publications and 26 US patents and patent applications.

Awards and Memberships

IBM Research Division Accomplishment recognition for Mask Defect Root Cause, 2008

IBM Research Division Technical Group Award for Photoresist Limits, 2004

Gomes School Parent-Teachers Association Award (for developing the Science Fair), 2003

IBM Research Division Accomplishment recognition for Photoresist Limits, 2002

AIChE Northern California Section Chemical Engineering Excellence Award: Research Project of the Year (for Chemical Kinetics Simulator), 1999

IBM Corporate Environmental Affairs Excellence Award (for Chemical Kinetics   Simulator), 1998

Fellow of the American Vacuum Society, 1996

IBM Supplemental Patent Issue Award for US patent 5446870, 1996

Fellow of the American Physical Society, 1992

IBM Outstanding Innovation Award for Laser Deposition of Metals, 1990

First Prize, IBM Computational Chemistry Challenge, 1990

IBM Invention Achievement Awards, First-Seventh Plateaus, 1985-2010

IBM Postdoctoral Fellowship, UCB/LBL, 1979-80

Herbert Newby McCoy Award for Outstanding Contributions in Chemistry, Caltech, 1979

IBM Predoctoral Fellowship, Caltech, 1977-78

Dean's Award for Outstanding Senior in Chemistry, UCI, 1974

ACS (Orange County Section) Award, UCI, 1974


Ph.D., Chemistry, California Institute of Technology

BA, Chemistry, University of California, Irvine

last updated: 2015-11-18 13:38:40