New Search

R. Stanley Williams

  • Born: October 27, 1951, Kodiak, Alaska

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0338
Interview Date: March 14, 2006
Location: Palo Alto, California
Interviewer: Cyrus Mody
No. of pages: 64
Sponsor: Nanotechnology

  Abstract of Interview

R. Stanley Williams begins the interview by discussing his childhood and Sputnik's influence on his decision to study science. Then Williams described his early predisposition towards chemistry and learning from both his father and books from the library. After a positive experience in high school, Williams found himself not as prepared in comparison to his peers at Rice University. Williams worked hard to catch up, and was mentored in microwave spectroscopy by Professor Robert Curl. After obtaining his undergraduate degree, Williams worked at Hewlett-Packard for a summer through Robert Curl's connections. At HP Williams worked on photoelectron spectrometers and made some notable contributions. Next Williams worked on photoemission while pursing his graduate degree at the University of California at Berkeley. After receiving his Ph.D., Williams accepted a position at Bell Laboratories as staff scientist—his research there involved using photoemission to study surface chemistry. Disliking the corporate culture at Bell, Williams moved to University of California at Los Angeles after one year. At UCLA Williams started from scratch and very quickly built up a large research lab. Throughout his stay at UCLA, Williams' research topic ranged from photoemission, ion scattering, STM, and finally AFM. After an earthquake in 1994 destroyed most of his instruments, Williams returned to HP and started a research initiative that eventually evolved into the Quantum Science Research Laboratory (QSR). QSR's four research areas include: nano electronics; nano photonics; nano mechanics; and nano architecture. Williams concludes the interview by offering his thoughts on outside collaboration and funding, the importance of micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) to HP, and how he views QSR in relations to other research institutions.


1974 B.A., Chemical PhysicsPhysical ChemistryPhysical Chemistry, Rice University
1976 M.S. University of California, Berkeley
1978 Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley

  Professional Experience

AT&T Bell Laboratories

1978 - 1980 Technical Staff

University of California, Los Angeles

1980 - 1984 Assistant Professor, Chemistry

University of California, Los Angeles

1980 - 1984 Assistant Professor, Chemistry

University of California, Los Angeles

1984 - 1986 Associate Professor, Chemistry

University of California, Los Angeles

1986 - 1995 Professor, Chemistry

Hewlett-Packard Laboratories

1995 - Present Quantum Science Research group, Founding Director and Senior HP Fellow


2000 Julius Springer Award for Applied Physics
2000 Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology
2002 Scientific American 50 Top Technology Leaders
2003 Herman Bloch Medal for Industrial Research
2004 Joel Birnbaum Prize
2005 Scientific American 50 Top Technology Leaders
2007 Glenn T. Seaborg Medal

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Family History and Early Life Experiences 1

Early disposition towards science. Growing up in South Texas and interest in chemistry.

Education 3

High school experience. Undergraduate degree at Rice University. Catching up in classes and studying privately. Being mentored by Robert Curl. Summer position at Hewlett-Packard.

Graduate work at University of California at Berkeley 13

Photoemission work and controversies. Stanford Synchrotron facility experience. Funding and fellowships.

Working at Bell Laboratories 20

Deciding to be a staff scientist at Bell Labs. Research on photoemission, ion scattering, and STM. Thoughts on corporate politics at Bell Labs. Transition to UCLA.

Career at University of California at Los Angeles 27

Building a new lab and learning to write proposals and grants. Difference between industry and academia. Continuing STM research. Expanding research group laboratory space. Efforts to start a research center. Dealing with funding problems and changing research direction. Constructing STM and AFMs. Learning about bulk thermodynamics.

Career at Hewlett-Packard 44

Northridge Earthquake destroying UCLA lab equipment. Accepting HP Lab offer. Setting up instruments and research group. Agilent spinoff and last minute decision to stay with HP. Difference between HP and Bell Labs and thoughts on technology transfer. Origins of the Quantum Science Research Group (QSR) and its research areas. Outside collaborations and funding.

Concluding Thoughts 57

MEMS research and view of QSR in relations to other research institutions.

Notes 59

Index 60

  About the Interviewer

Cyrus Mody

Cyrus Mody is an assistant professor of history at Rice University. Prior to that position he was the manager of the Nanotechnology and Innovation Studies programs in the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical and materials engineering from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in science and technology studies from Cornell. He was the 2004–2005 Gordon Cain Fellow at CHF before becoming a program manager. Mody has published widely on the history and sociology of materials science, instrumentation, and nanotechnology.

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@

Annual Report

Annual Report
Take a look back at a year of preservation, research, and outreach in CHF’s annual report to supporters.

Support CHF

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