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UW Crest with engineering background
October 31, 2022

David Hemker: 2022 Distinguished Achievement Award recipient

Written By: Staff

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David Hemker

David Hemker BSChE ‘84 (MSChE ‘85, PhD ‘89, Stanford University)
Senior vice president and chief technology officer (retired), Lam Research Corporation

We are honoring David as a chemical engineer and technology leader whose numerous innovations have advanced semiconductor processing and thin-film applications.

How did you choose chemical engineering?

I was intending to be a chemistry major. At registration, there was a catalog that listed every possible major. I turned to the page for chemistry but on the facing page it listed chemical engineering, and that sounded interesting. I asked my dad what was the difference between a chemist and a chemical engineer. He said a chemist typically works in a lab and a chemical engineer solves problems on a scale that people care about. In hindsight, I realize that my electrical engineering father had subtly pushed me toward engineering.

How did your experience at UW-Madison influence your career path?

As a sophomore, I got a job as a lab assistant working for Professor Stuart Cooper, who was doing polymer research. I started off just washing test tubes or whatever, but then eventually was doing gas chromatography experiments, which led to a co-authorship of a published paper. I really enjoyed it, and it influenced me to get a PhD.

Of what accomplishments are you most proud?

Every advanced semiconductor chip that is made today (at least part of it), I had a little bit to do with its fabrication. I think I have more than 100 worldwide patents, and really, the part that made it fun was assembling the team; to have a lot of smart, talented people who are driven to the same goal is satisfying.

Who has played the greatest role in your achievements?

The only reason I was able to do what I did professionally is because of my wife. Early in my career, she was teaching communications at the university level. We were in the Bay Area, and when I had the opportunity to go to a startup in Southern California, we moved down there. When our kids came along, she put her teaching career on hold. Over the years, I’ve had ton of travel with crazy hours, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that without her support. My dad was also a big influence. A UW-Madison electrical engineering graduate, he was constantly solving real-world problems. He’d literally pull out a napkin, start drawing and a few minutes later he’d have an idea to try out.

What are your hobbies?

I serve on several nonprofit boards ranging from the board of regents for a small liberal arts university in Southern California to the Garuna Foundation, which builds free community schools in rural Cambodia. It’s been satisfying to see how much of what I learned in my career I can apply even to something totally unrelated to technology. I just built an Arduino controller and wrote a companion app to control a gate we have in our driveway. I also run a Linux server at home and host lots of apps for the family, like email, a Minecraft server, music and video streaming, and photo sharing.