Jose Jimenez got a trial-by-fire introduction to the Beckman Institute and the concept of having multiple, unrelated disciplines and their faculty members in one building.
Jimenez was a new Beckman Fellow in 1996, brimming with the confidence that comes with a recently-earned Ph.D. and ready to tell the world about his doctoral work involving semiconductor theory. So when Karl Hess – a founding father of the Beckman Institute and leading theoretician in semiconductor physics – had one of his students ask Jimenez to give a presentation at a seminar series for the general public, Jimenez was unruffled. He had a one-hour talk ready to go, but never made it all the way through the presentation.
“I was grilled by Karl, questions like I had never had in my life,” Jimenez recalled with a chuckle. “I really liked giving talks but I had professors tell me afterwards it looked more like an exam.
“A couple of days later I stopped by Karl’s office and said ‘Karl I don’t know what happened. You grilled me with these difficult questions.’ He said ‘no, you did great. But I wanted to make a point. This is the first time that I organized these talks and I wanted to make sure that people realize we are in a multidisciplinary center. We cannot give a talk with very technical language. We have to give it so people in different areas understand it.’ This for me was very important. I didn’t appreciate it at the moment but later on I did. I use that example all the time.”
Jimenez is now a Senior Member of the Research and Development Technical Staff at TriQuint Semiconductor in Richardson, Texas. His work there in the Defense and Aerospace Business Unit involves the development of next-generation semiconductor technology.
Jimenez’s time as a Beckman Fellow was spent working with current Institute faculty member Jean-Pierre Leburton and former faculty David Brady, and also Hess, investigating the practical use of non-uniform quantum dots in electronics. But as or even more important than the research to his Fellow experience, Jimenez said, were the lessons he learned at Beckman about communicating science to those outside your own discipline.
“The things I worked on at Beckman and the things I am working on now are not directly the same, but they are very related,” Jimenez said. “But what was more important for me at Beckman was actually the fact that I took very seriously the idea of multidisciplinary research, particularly the ability to speak with people who speak different languages, and I don’t mean English or French.
“That has helped me enormously. I have a position of leadership here in this company, and a big part of that is the ability to communicate with people who are not as expert as I am in a specific area. Beckman is not the only place I learned that, but it played a big, big role. So I value that as something very important, the ability to talk to very different people.”
Jimenez directs several university-related projects for TriQuint, and in those efforts and other dealings with the public, he practices what he preaches about communication. He is also passionate about industry and academia working together effectively, and gives talks on the subject. Jimenez said TriQuint and MIT currently have a very effective working relationship.
“The way to do it is by understanding the strengths of both places, the universities and the companies and working together with both benefitting from the information of the other,” he said.
Jimenez said his most important research work while serving as a Beckman Fellow involved using the non-uniformity of self-assembled quantum dots toward applications in laser electronics technology. At TriQuint Semiconductor Jimenez’s work involves the development of gallium nitride as a replacement for gallium arsenide in future electronics.
“It has much better properties than gallium arsenide, which is basically in almost every cell phone in the world,” he said. “But slowly that will change. In the beginning gallium nitride technology will be adopted by the military but 10 years from now it will be commercial.”
Jimenez said that early on he was intent on becoming a professor, but first chose to become a Beckman Fellow and then joined industry rather than take a faculty position.
“It was tough because the Beckman Institute and a university environment was the only world that I really knew,” he said. “But if the best university would call me tomorrow there is no way I could say yes. There is so much to learn in a company. I think it is so important to learn while working in a company because of all the things they don’t teach in a university.”