Title and Description Page
Early Years and College 1
Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Family background. Moving to Kalamazoo,
back to Grand Rapids, and then to New Buffalo. Ham radio, vacuum tubes,
electronics magazines. Page in Michigan legislature. National Merit Scholar.
Enters Michigan State University with physics major, but switches to computer science. College job programming for hospital automation. Loved computers.Wanted to see how operating system worked; with friends hacked into MSU computer. Thought of selves at “alternative systems programming group;” hence name for later company, “Altsys”.
First Job 17
Finished school with no job offer. Saw that Texas Instruments (TI) was hiring; drove camper to Texas, had girlfriend cut hair, applied for job, hired on the spot. Systems programmer developing CAD tools for design of design integrated circuits. Met future wife, also an engineer, his first day on job. Worked on operating system, lots of architecture. Apollo workstation. Wife’s programming work. Became section manager. Obtained master’s degree at University of Texas at Dallas. Problems with management. Wrote two computer games, but TI dropped home computer, so Von Ehr left to form own company.
Altsys Corporation 29
Kevin Crowder, cofounder. Used Apple computer and synthesizer with his own music. Games until market crashed in December of 1983. Then used Compaq computers to write text editor for IBM pc’s. Windows came out, so he switched to utilities for Macintosh, which had beautiful architecture. Font editor, typeface design. Had to learn C programming language, typefaces, Mac computers. Helped create desktop publishing. Developed FONTastic. Typefaces for Apple’s LaserWriter. Developed FreeHand, licensed to Aldus Corporation.
Got back FreeHand, sold company to Macromedia. Aldus bought by Adobe. Forbes Magazine. Libertarianism. Helped Macromedia with transition for two years. Wrote Dreamweaver. Macromedia invented Flash; company bought by Adobe Systems, Inc.
Zyvex Corporation 52
Talk and books by Eric Drexler introduced him to nanotechnology (nano).
Foresight Institute. Lack of vision for nano, so started own company, Zyvex. Objections to nanotechnology; conflict led to National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). George Soros and John Rennie against opportunity, technology, and profit; character assassination of their opponents, Bjørn Lomborg and Drexler, caused Von Ehr to cancel his subscription to Scientific American. Ralph Merkle. Expected faster development because of speed of computer technology
development. Wilson Ho’s experiment, using scanning tunneling microscope
(STM). Setting up company. First COO did much harm and good.
Depassivation. Ultra high vacuum (UHV). Nanotubes and buckyballs. Rodney Ruoff used first nanomanipulator inside electron microscope. Intel, persuaded by chief scientist, Richard Stallcup, first customer. Wanted to commercialize, but customers initially only wanted to rent. Sold nanomanipulator company to DCG Systems, Inc.
Middle Years at Zyvex 80
Applicability of models. Robert Freitas, Nanomedicine; Ralph Merkle on
metabolism. Grants for probe system from National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Partnered with Honeywell International for large five-year grant from NIST’s Advanced Technology Program (ATP). Silicon micromachines. Engineer Rahul Saini. Developing Nano-Retina with Rainbow Medical. Shutdown of ATP. John Randall. Thomas Kenny. Fired COO, took over himself. STARTech board. Restructured company into three companies: tools, materials, and labs; sold the tools company. Materials company based in Columbus, Ohio. Jian Chen, first nanotube chemist. Functionalized tubes, patent near-miss.
Investors include Lockheed, Arkema. Boat prototype made of prepreg. Robotic control for military applications. Some sporting goods. Quantum computing. Michelle Simmons’s lab in Australia. Joseph Lyding and epitaxy. UHV feasible, but cryogenic temperatures not. Steven Jurvetsen and signing 21st Century Nanotech Research and Development Act, sponsored by Senator George Allen. Visit to White House, standing next to President Bush.
Thoughts and Pleasures 110
NNI should focus on energy, especially energy storage. Thinks entrepreneurs
should work on nano; government should lead way by consuming early, costly
products. Competition is good. We should learn from ways biological
mechanisms work. We should emulate nature’s atomically precise size. Feels
he has enough money to do what he wants. History will validate his ideas.
Sarbanes-Oxley imposes prohibitive costs on going public; he would never risk his own net worth and freedom. Might establish public company outside United States. Cato Institute. Michael Crichton’s Prey and other science fiction. His art collection; especially likes M.C. Escher. Likes music. Interest in energy conversion. Thinks nature is best catalyst. No grid storage for windmills so much of Texas’s wind power turned off. Fascinated by VRB Power in Canada, bought by Chinese; wishes he’d bought.
Current and Future State of Nano 120
Universities good only for producing graduates, many foreign; United States
poses visa problems. We should use example of semiconductor revolution:
look to industry and have incremental goals. Japan’s investment in glass
companies and tires. Toxicity tests on nanotubes show no inhalation; good
substitute for carbon black. Barriers to entry by EPA, OSHA, other agencies. China and Japan ready to market. China working on anti-counterfeit printing that uses no ink; research facility in Beijing now closed to tourists, so probably making progress. View of EPA: “facts don’t necessarily lead to regulation.” Tubes embargoed going to China; products designed and sold here but made there. Growth of technology. Ray Kurzweil. Transhumanism, artificial intelligence. Ability of humans to adapt. Mihail Roco and NNI. Senatorial Trust; attending President Bush’s second inauguration. Von Ehr’s libertarian ideals. Against price supports but thought ATP a good program. With E. Glenn Gaustad formed Texas Nanotechnology Initiative. Endowed scholarships at Michigan State University. Future of molecular nanotechnology. Python, C++. Computer hackery, not computer science. Lego Mindstorms. Interface between computers and nanotechnology. Power of assembly. Continuing invention. Medicine. Inevitability of progress.