"आ नो भद्राः क्रतवो यन्तु विश्वतः" (a no bhadrah kratavo yantu visvatah), In the spirit of this timeless vedic adage that invites for good thoughts from all corners, this is an exploration of the Dutch society that demonstrates four centuries of pursuits in matters of light and glass.
The Netherlands has a rich history of experimentation and progress in science and technology, dating back to the seventeenth century when the country was a hub of trade and innovation.
One of the key factors in this development was the import of glass technology from Italy, which helped to spur the growth of a thriving glass industry in the Netherlands.
Hugh Aldersey-Williams explains the marriage of art and science in matters of light with the quote of the seventeenth century Dutch painter and art scholar Samuel van Hoogstraeten in her book Dutch Light (Aldersey-Williams, 2020, 25) as — “The Art of Painting is a science for representing all the conceptions or impressions which the whole of visible nature can offer and for beguiling the eye with outline and color.”
She elaborates — “And what tool was more essential to the beguiler than an ability to handle light, the light that illuminates visible nature, the light that permits us to see it? Light is surely the common factor that unites the interests of art and science.”
Dutch Cities Of Commerce And Innovation
Unlike the rest of Europe, the uniqueness of the Dutch Republic was a bubbling network of commerce and culture of proud cities which promoted new ideas for society instead of just isolated experiments at academic institutions.
Govert van der Hagen of Middelburg obtained the local patent for glass-making in 1591 from States of Zeeland and the state provided him an interest-free loan to ensure he did not move to Amsterdam.
It was an important feat considering the fact that fine glass had been a monopoly of artisans from the Venetian Island of Murano in Italy.
It was a closely guarded Venetian secret for centuries imposing harsh penalties on workers choosing to move out of the Venetian state and occasional accounts of sending assassins after the emigrated workers.
The seventeenth century Dutch cities were the laboratories that precipitated optical sciences ranging from Willebrord Snel of Leiden on who the Snell’s Laws of refraction are coined, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek of Delft whose self-taught designs of Microscopes produced the first images of plant cells and blood cells, Christiaan Huygens the polymath in the Hague who invented first practical telescope which he used to observe the moons of Jupiter and rings of Saturn.
The common thing among all these men apart from being Dutch was that they were the lens makers who ground their own lenses built on the foundations of Simon Stevin.
H A Williams provides the account of Simon Stevin who held no university position; he was the proto Dutch scientist with not only command in mathematics but concerned with the practical utility of his work.
He earned his living through various windmill and hydraulic engineering projects. Stevin was asked to set up a school of engineering at Leiden in 1600 by city-head Prince Maurits, where his entire focus was “How his work might be applied in practice” and he decided to teach in Dutch instead of Latin (which was the default medium of instruction in academia).
He went on to publish many textbooks. The field of engineering he instituted was known as “duytsche mathematycke” or Dutch mathematics. His Dutch publications were targeted for the use of local builders, craftsmen and traders.
The on-shoring of the optical know-how and experimentation led to a flurry of devices like high quality mirrors, spectacles, binoculars, microscopes, telescopes and some versions of camera obscura/lucida.
Antonie Philips van Leeuwenhoek, citizen of Delft was a self-taught lens maker who used his tiny lenses in microscopes to report and revolutionise the field of microbiology (Tiny Lenses|Lens on Leeuwenhoek, n.d.).
Another Delft Lens maker Johannes Vermeer (and also other Dutch masters) is attributed to have used some versions of “camera lucida” to create their masterpieces heralding the Dutch “Golden” Age of art (Andersen, 2013).
A Dutch father and son duo of opticians, Hans and Zacharias Janssen, placed two magnifying lenses on the top and bottom of a tube and found that they could magnify an unseen world.
Microscopes with two lenses would be eventually termed “compound microscopes,” while those with single lenses were called “simple”; both relied on centuries of innovation in glassblowing that had made its way from the ancient world to the workshops of Italian and Dutch glassmakers.
The seventeenth century low-lands (the Netherlands) were a melting pot at the crossroads of European religious wars (between the Protestants and Catholics), a beacon of hope for open thought and experiment.
Rene Descartes fled from French religious turmoil in the seventeenth century to seek refuge in the relatively liberal Dutch Republic, whose new universities were the safe haven where he produced his treatise “Discourse on Method” that records his cogito argument — “I think, therefore I am”, the treatise also includes “La dioptrique” — a section on explorations in physics of optics and the nature of light.
Even though some aspects of these glass-making techniques, for example making stained glass disappeared in the eighteenth century, the knowledge continued to circulate in the texts and helped in the partial revival of the art in the nineteenth century. However, the science and commerce using glass continued.
Dutch Engineering Foundations At Philips
The father and son duo of Frederik and Gerard founded Philips & Co in 1891 to manufacture incandescent lamps.
They continued in the Dutch legacy of working with glass (to produce high-quality vacuum inside the glass-bulb) and light (light emitting filament material that could withstand high temperatures), ushering in the electrification of the Netherlands in the beginning of the twentieth century.
Dodging the existing cartels in carbon filament lamps, Gerard explored metal filaments and eventually gas-filled incandescent lamps to find their niche in a crowded twentieth century European lamp market.
The technical problems in manufacturing of gas-filled incandescent lamps and the arrival of new patent laws in 1912 in the Netherlands compelled Gerard Philips to establish an internal department to address future product differentiation and conduct the needed research.
A new department, termed — “Natuurkundig Laboratorium”, popularly known as “NatLab” with Gilles Holst as its first head was established in 1914.
Its primary goal was “to work for the Philips industry with the final purpose to obtain better products, new products, better methods and a better understanding of Philips products and their applications”.
The NatLab went on to become one of the leading industrial research labs in the league of Bell Labs, GE Labs and the Siemens Labs.
NatLab was instrumental in going beyond the visible light spectrum like manufacturing radio tubes, X-ray tubes, Plumbicon (a TV camera tube), LOCOS — process used in semiconductor manufacturing and also the design of many products like fluorescent lights, electric razors, Video Long Play disc (VLP) precursors to CDs etc.
Even though Philips Research currently focuses on three areas: Healthcare, Consumer Lifestyle and Lighting, the pursuit for excellence in instrumentation and product design has had over a hundred- year history at Philips.
Dutch Steps In Lithography — The Birth Of ASML
Lithography had its humble beginnings in pursuit of miniaturising mesa-transistors accurately.
A “glob of wax” was used to mask the section of semiconductor material that was to be retained and specialised chemicals washed away the rest.
The smaller the transistor, the smaller the glob of wax and challenging the task to keep the shape of the globs consistent.
In October 1957, Jay Lathrop and his chemist colleague James Nall at Department of Defense’s Diamond Ordnance Fuze Lab working on mesa-transistors while observing these structures under a microscope conclude that “If they turned the microscope upside down they could take something big and make it small accurately”.
Masking the semiconductor base with a photoresist material, they use a trinoculor microscope with a third pot to shine the light, they could project their “pattern of interest” through an upside down microscope, so that light would pass through the inverted system of lens creating an accurate miniature version of the pattern at the other end on photoresist-coated semiconductor.
After the chemical wash the pattern was far smaller and accurate than any glob, easier to reproduce than anything manufactured so far. Lathrop coins the process “photolithography” — printing with light.
Building on the idea of using optic projections on glass plates to study celestial objections, David Mann at GCA developed Model 971 in 1961, the manual step-and-repeat system to print patterns with precision of 25 micrometers.
One of these machines is brought to Philips’ Electronic components and materials (Elcoma) which manufactures circuits.
The reverse engineering of this machine and know-how gained over several decades of product R&D under the Philips umbrella at Elcoma, Science & Industry division (S&I), NatLab and other departments on different aspects of machinery involved in IC fabrication namely: Opthycography for masks, Electron beam pattern generators for making precision structures, precision instrumentation and mechanics, photochemistry and optics.
These efforts led to a wafer-stepper system that challenged the precision of the industry at that time conquering on the way challenges like precise wafer and photomask alignment, the ingenuity to use lasers instead of separate optical paths for projection and alignment.
In 1983, Philips S&I (the technology provider) and Advanced Semiconductor Materials International (ASM International, the market and business expert) created a joint venture named ASM Lithography Systems (today known as ASML) to develop, manufacture, and market advanced lithographic equipment with the first batch of engineers borrowed from Philips switching over to the new venture in Eindhoven.
Gjalt Smit, the CEO of ASML exalts that Veldhoven, adjacent to Eindhoven is a logical location because of proximity to Natlab and Philips’ machine factories.
The venture starts off with Philips Automatic Stepper (PAS 2000) lagging behind its Japanese competitors. Building on IBM’s vital feedback as its early customer, the product distinction and catch-up happens with PAS 2500 with Micron as lead customer involved production of highly dense DRAMs.
Finally, by late 1980s a newcomer in Asia will become the game changer for ASML. TSMC — a pure play foundry supported by Philips with 27.5 per cent stake in exchange for chip technology and $58 million funds.
With-in a year of its setup, a fire burnt TSMC to the ground, resolute and undeterred TSMC does a splash order for 17 new machines to ASML, plus refurbishment of the damaged equipment and as they say “The rest is history”.
Today, ASML stands as the testament to centuries of Dutch pursuits in matters of Light from humble beginnings of grinding lens to making the most expensive and advanced lithography machines on the planet.
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