New Search

Vincent J. Coates

  • Born: January 19, 1925, Bridgeport, Connecticut

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0275
Interview Date: May 5, 2003
Location: Milipitas, California
Interviewer: David C. Brock
No. of pages: 137
Minutes: 245
Sponsor: Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation
Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation

  Abstract of Interview

Vincent J. Coates begins the interview with a description of his childhood in Bridgeport Connecticut. Having been too young to join the military at the start of World War II, Coates got a job filing machine parts and began attending the Bridgeport Engineering Institute. He later applied the knowledge he had gained at the Institute on the Navy's Officer Candidate School exam, earning him the highest score in Connecticut. At the behest of his mother, Coates attended Yale University, majoring in mechanical engineering. After a short tour in the Navy, Coates took a job a Chance-Vought Aircraft. He worked there for two years, but when learned that the company planned to move to Texas, he decided to seek employment elsewhere. In 1948, he was hired at PerkinElmer; a job that was to have a great impact on his life. He began as a project engineer, but when John U. White left suddenly in 1949, the responsibility for their project, the Model 21, fell completely on Coates's shoulders. He was undaunted, however, and after extensive research of infrared spectroscopy, Coates, with the help of John Atwood, finished the instrument. After the original Model 21 became a proven success, Coates began developing accessories for the instrument, such as the Prism Interchange Unit, to expand its potential market. Eventually, he was moved to California to head their Ultech Company subsidiary. Coates decided to leave Perkin-Elmer after the president decided to shut down Coates's field-emission scanning electron microscopes (FESEM) project at the request of Hitachi. Having realized the potential of FESEMs, Coates and Len Welter started the Coates & Welter Instrument Company to produce the world's first commercial FESEMs. Though they had a good business, they soon ran out of money and were acquired by the American Optical Corporation (AO). Coates worked for AO briefly, and then he stared his own business, Nanometrics Incorporated, in 1975. At first, Coates attempted to build and sell a Raman spectrophotometer system, but the instruments resolution proved inadequate for measuring Raman lines. He then adapted his instrument for measuring of fluorescent-tagged samples. He had assumed the instrument would be useful for biological research, but nobody was interested initially. He finally, and unexpectedly, found a niche for the instrument in the measurement of integrated circuits. His Microspot Film-Thickness-Measurement Systems became essential for the manufacture of advanced microchips, and his company became extremely successful as a result. Currently, Coates shares his successes with the scientific community through the philanthropy of the Vincent J. Coates Foundation.


1946 B.S., Engineering, Yale University

  Professional Experience

United States Naval Reserve

1943 - 1946

Chance-Vought Aircraft Corporation

1946 - 1948 Designer

Perkin-Elmer Corporation

1948 - 1952 Project Engineer

Perkin-Elmer Corporation

1952 - 1954 Sales Engineer

Perkin-Elmer Corporation

1954 - 1955 Manager, Special Engineering Sales

Perkin-Elmer Corporation

1955 - 1959 Manager, Applied Engineering

Perkin-Elmer Corporation

1958 - 1963 Director, Research Internal Operations

Perkin-Elmer Corporation

1963 Director, Distribution Products Department

Coates and Welter Instrument Corporation



Nanometrics Incorporated

1975 Founder

Nanometrics Incorporated

1975 - 1996 President

Nanometrics Incorporated

1975 - 1997 Chief Executive Officer

Nanometrics Incorporated

1989 Secretary

Vincent J. Coates Foundation

1999 - present President


1995 Semiconductor and Equipment and Materials International Award

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Education 1

Growing up in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Grammar school and high school during World War II. Attending the Bridgeport Engineering Institute. Working at the Bridgeport Brass Company. Yale University. Navy Officer Training School. Naval tour. Family. Warren Harding High School. The Navy's "V-12" program.

Early Career 4

Working at Chance-Vought Aircraft. Designing the F7U's hydraulic system. Application to Perkin-Elmer Corporation and brief history of the company. Interview with John U. White. Working on the Model 12 and Model 21. The 1950 Pittsburg Conference. Redesigning the Model 21 and creating accessories for the instrument. Designing standard charts for "pure spectra." Paul Wilks and Van Zandt Williams disinterest in Coates's work. First meeting with Dick Perkin. The early significance of the Model 21 to Perkin-Elmer.

Expanded Role at Perkin-Elmer 10

Working in Perkin-Elmer's sales department. Designing the Interchange Unit for the Model 21. Working in international relations. Competing with Beckman Instrument's first infrared (IR) spectrophotometer. Introduction of the Model 21A. Infighting over the Model 21's importance versus the Model 21C. Hiring Abe Savitsky. The Model 13. Redesigning the Model 13 as the 13U. Developing an IR microscope attachment for the Model 85. Working with Abe Offner. Reflections on the development of the NanoSpec 20 IR. Sadtler's compilation of "pure spectra." Redesigning instruments for John White. Development of the Model 139.

Trip to Japan 18

Hitachi's superior mass spectrometer. Finding a market for Hitachi's instrument. Klaus Biemann. Selling Hitachi electron microscopes. Fixing the Hitachi mass spectrometer. The deal between Perkin-Elmer and Hitachi. Designing the Model 270. The disintegration of Perkin-Elmer's relationship with Hitachi. Working with Hitachi in California. Development of the field-emission scanning electron microscopes (FESEM). Quitting Perkin-Elmer.

Starting His Own Business 23

Len Welter. Coates & Welter Instrument Corporation. American Optical Corporation buys-out Coates's company. The applications lab at Perkin-Elmer. Harry Hausdorff and the expansion of Perkin-Elmer in to Europe. Alan Walsh and atomic absorption. Directing Perkin-Elmer's research and development subsidiaries in Europe. Peter B. Fellgett. Move to California. The Ultech Company. American Optical's conservative business practices. Developing a Raman SEM instrument for Perkin-Elmer.

Nanometrics Incorporated 32

Development of Nanometrics Raman spectrophotometer systems. Working with Professor Michael Bernes. Joseph DeRisi and SARS. Selling to integrated-circuit manufacturers. Early integration of computer technology in to Nanometrics's instruments. Development of low-voltage SEMs. The shift in the electronics market from the United States to Asia. The European semiconductor market. Coates's philanthropy.

Chester Nimitz and Perkin-Elmer 40

Nimitz's influence on Perkin-Elmer. Van Zandt Williams. Paul Wilks. The future of mass spectrometry. Protein analysis. Gas chromatography at Perkin-Elmer. Marcey Golay. Nathaniel Brenner. Temperature-programmed gas chromatographs. Designing the triple-stage gas chromatograph. Involvement in ultraviolet spectrometry at Perkin-Elmer. Development of the Trinon and Bi-Chromator Analyzers. Making the Trinon successful. Competition for work at Dow Chemical.

Notes 47

Appendices 49

I: Publications; II: Patents Issued; III: The Perkin-Elmer Instrument News (1960): 2-3; IV: Spettroscopia E Chromatografia Di Gas: International Section (1958): 10-11; V: Vincent J. Coates, Abe Offner, and E. H. Siegler, Jr., “Design and Performance of an Infrared Microscope Attachment,” Journal of the Optical Society of America 43, no. 11 (November 1953): 984-989; VI: Vincent J. Coates, “A Variable Thickness Liquid Absorption Cell,” The Review of Scientific Instruments 22, no. 11 (November 1951): 853-854; VII: PEN 9, no. 10 (November 1961): 1, 8; VIII: Photograph of Coates at an International Sales Meeting (Date and publication unknown); IX: Photographs of Coates at Hitachi Perkin-Elmer, Ltd. Meeting held in Japan (Date and publication unknown); X: Vincent J. Coates, “Differential Knob Device,” U.S. Patent # 2,658,395. Issued 10 November 1953; XI: Bryce Crawford, Jr., “Chemical Analysis by Infrared,” Scientific American (October 1953):42-48; XII: “Comparison of Various Infrared Spectrometric Systems”; XIII: “Laboratory of the Month,” Analytical Chemistry (Date unknown); XIV: Perkin-Elmer Instrument News for Science and Industry 6, no. 3 (Spring 1955):1, 3-4, 8; XV: Vincent J. Coates and Nathaniel Brenner, “Fuel Gas Analysis by Chromatography?” Petroleum Refiner 35, no. 11 (November 1956): 197-201; XVI: Vincent J. Coates and Robert Anacreon, “Model 21 Ordinate Scale Expansion System Extends IR Measurement Sensitivity,” Perkin-Elmer Instrument News for Science and Industry 9, no. 2 (Winter
1958): 1, 9-12; XVII: Perkin-Elmer Instrument News for Science and Industry 4, no. 4 (Summer 1953): 1, 6-8; XVIII: Vincent J. Coates and Harry Hausdorff, “Interferometric Method of Measuring Spectral Slit Width of Spectrometers,” Journal of the Optical Society of America 45, no. 6 (June 1955): 425-430; XIX: Society for Applied Spectroscopy Program, Ninth Annual Meeting,
27-28 May 1954; XX: Vincent J. Coates, Thomas Miller, and Abraham Savitzky, “The Performance of the Perkin-Elmer Model 21 in the Region 210mu to 2000mu,” Applied Spectroscopy 9, no. 1(February 1955): 14-19; XXI: Nanospec 20IR Infrared Microscope Spectrophotometer, Nanometrics Incorporated, Milpitas, California.

Index 119

  About the Interviewer

David C. Brock

David C. Brock is a senior research fellow with the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. As a historian of science and technology, he specializes in the history of semiconductor science, technology, and industry; the history of instrumentation; and oral history. Brock has studied the philosophy, sociology, and history of science at Brown University, the University of Edinburgh, and Princeton University.

In the policy arena Brock recently published Patterning the World: The Rise of Chemically Amplified Photoresists, a white-paper case study for the Center’s Studies in Materials Innovation. With Hyungsub Choi he is preparing an analysis of semiconductor technology roadmapping, having presented preliminary results at the 2009 meeting of the Industry Studies Association.

Hear It Firsthand

The Center for Oral History captures and preserves the stories of notable figures in chemistry and related fields, with over 425 oral histories that deal with various aspects of science, of scientists, and of scientific practices. For more information please visit CHF’s Oral History Program or e-mail oralhistory@

Support CHF

Help us preserve and share the history of chemistry and related sciences. Make a tax-deductible donation online.