Product Manager Anna Lena Eberle at work on the DemoLab of the MultiSEM technology

Dr. Anna Lena Eberle is a science-fiction fan as well as holding a doctorate in biology – and is now involved with brain and semiconductor structures. In this article, she tells us why she and her CV are a perfect match for ZEISS SMT.

Discovering what really binds the world together

This quest is what really motivates scientists – not just at ZEISS but everywhere in the world. It would also be a good title for my autobiography, if I ever get round to writing it. In any event, my CV is far from typical. In my research project at the Max Planck Institute, I worked on the brain, but now I'm part of a team using high-performance microscopes to work on global semiconductor manufacture.

From fiction to science: aesthetic wow effects

Star Trek, Star Wars or the novels of William Gibson and Philip K. Dick: science-fiction dealing with the interplay of dystopia and utopia has always fascinated me, and particularly at the interface where humans and technology meet and coalesce. This is why I studied biology in Tübingen where I received a doctorate for my work on the supply of blood vessels in the brain, inspired by the question "How do we actually think?". Working with microscopes at the university was a real pleasure. Why? Because a microscope opens up new insights on the world. Whether I'm looking at a drop of water, a nerve cell or a microchip triggers an aesthetic "wow effect" for me and never fails to conjure up a smile on my face. My room at the university was therefore always decorated with pages taken from a certain microscope manufacturer's calendar. Adding dyes, getting the illumination right or 3D X-rays; different methods reveal different things and an image of reality is brought closer with every step. This – and at the risk of being thought perhaps "nerdy" – a love of technology and fascination with the aesthetics of the "ultra-small" brought me initially to neuroanatomy and the nuclear spin laboratory of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics. But the erratic employment relationships in academia made me look for alternatives. And so, in my search for a suitable employer where I could pursue my passion, applying to ZEISS as a microscope manufacturer was an obvious choice.

A ZEISS SMT employee holds a sample in the clean room. The MultiSEM technology can be seen in the background.

A perfect match?

ZEISS as a specialist in optics, including for microscopes and optical systems for manufacturing semiconductors. At first sight a perfect match. But when I looked a second time, it involved a change of roles. From a customer to a manufacturer. From academia to industry. From user to product manager, initially with no direct involvement in semiconductor manufacture. The position actually demanded three to five years' professional experience as a product manager. But in my development position I was allowed to learn "on the job" everything I was missing for the actual job. I took on responsibility right from the start, traveling with the rest of the team to trade shows and exhibitions – and meeting distinguished scientists right up to the present day. It's my job to be a sort of interpreter or go-between, bringing our customers and developers together and helping each side understand more about the other. Working in a small inter-disciplinary team I share responsibility for aligning applications to the needs of our customers and for developing new areas of application in semiconductor research. So, when I look again (the third time), the perfect match – so far!

Two employees of ZEISS SMT talk in front of a screen about the technology of MultiSEM

Looking with 91 times greater precision

My journey with the ZEISS MultiSEM, the world’s fastest scanning electron microscope, began in 2012. To put it in a nutshell, with its 91 parallel electron beams the MultiSEM does what you would otherwise need 91 electron microscopes to do. It generates up to 1.5 terabytes of image data every hour and, with this speed and depth of detail, is unique in the world.
But the faster the data capture, the longer it takes to evaluate the data due to the sheer data volume. The MultiSEM has been around since 2014, and it has taken all this time for the first publications based on the assessment of MultiSEM data to appear. I think we're allowed to give ourselves a little pat on the back for our contribution to these new discoveries. I'd completed the journey from the application to the development side. But the journey on the development side was not over.

Product Manager Dr. Anna Lena Eberle at work in the field of semiconductor development

I never cease to be amazed at the many similarities between brain and semiconductor structures.

Dr. Anna Lena Eberle

Product Manager in the Field of Business MultiSEM

From brain structures to semiconductor structures

Analogies and comparisons between microchip structures and the human brain abound. That these analogies and comparisons are by no means absurd is evident from the fact that we can investigate both prepared brain samples and microchips with our MultiSEM – both of which are, in fact, happening. The result is that I, as a biologist and neuroscientist, now feel at home working with semiconductors. From living tissue to artificially manufactured chip structures measured in nanometers. I never cease to be amazed at the many similarities, but also the differences. For example, even in comparison with the latest high-powered processors, the brain is still many orders of magnitude more efficient in terms of energy requirement, not to mention its superior capability and adaptability. It is no coincidence that a significant part of relevant research funding is aimed at understanding the structure of neural networks so that nature's template can be used to design processors.

In semiconductor development, samples are used to generate the most precise result possible.

Exploring nanometer small conductor tracks

But why does the semiconductor industry need microscopes in microchip production? In the final analysis chip manufacturers are doing the same as neuroscientists: they are slicing up chip structures and reconstructing them in digital form. In taking this course of action the neuroscientist wants to discover the structure of the brain and how different areas function and interact with each other. In the world of semiconductor manufacturing, it's already known how the smallest transistor structures are constructed on microchips – and how they should function. In this case however, the question is "Are the structures and properties of these nanometer-small conductor paths all as they should be?" The answer to this question can be found with the aid of the MultiSEM – which helps semiconductor manufacturers supply our world with high-performance microchips.

To boldly go where no one has gone before

From academia to the semiconductor industry. From brain structures to semiconductor structures. From biologist to product manager. What really binds the world together? We get a tiny bit closer to the answer to this question every day – and I'm one of the people working on it. It’s just brilliant. But we're also confronted with new questions every day. It's clearly too soon for me to write my autobiography. However, what I will certainly include in my biography is "Remaining curious, being courageous and abandoning supposedly predetermined (career) paths from time to time is well worth the effort, true to the Star Trek motto "to boldly go where no one has gone before". And I'm quite sure that I share this experience with many of my colleagues at ZEISS SMT.

Produktmanagerin Dr. Anna-Lena Eberle bei ihrer Arbeit am DemoLab der MultiSEM Technologie
Author Dr. Anna Lena Eberle Product Manager in the Field of Business MultiSEM

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