International Business Machines Corp.'s research division has announced two innovations that seem far afield from the computers, copiers and other areas of office technology for which IBM is best known. Because of this apparent lack of connection with IBM products, these innovations illustrate the broad scope of the company's research efforts.
One is a process that can use lasers to fabricate integrated circuits with fewer steps than before and to perform surgery with unprecedented precision.
The other is a new technique that can produce three-dimensional models of the atomic-level surface of solids.
Unlike any large industrial corporations, IBM separates its research and development activities, according to Gerald Present, an IBM spokesman and physicist. Present said that the threefold purpose of research at IBM is to improve existing technology, to develop new technology and to perform basic research that might relate to the company's business.
There are 360,000 IBM employes worldwide, with about 2,200 in the research division in three locations: Yorktown Heights, N.Y., San Jose, Calif., and Zurich.
The researchers "can roam very widely"--astrophysics, biophysics, mathematics--including areas that don't affect the company's business directly, Parent said. "We draw on the world of science and contribute to the world of science."
IBM was granted more than 450 patents in 1982, bringing its total over the last five years to 2,155. Many innovations patented by IBM are outside its area of interest and therefore have been licensed to others. Among them was a chromium-plating technique.
The company's R&D spending was $1.36 billion in 1979, $1.52 billion in 1980, $1.61 billion in 1981, and $2.05 billion in 1982. The last figure was topped only by General Motors Corp. at $2.175 billion, and American Telephone & Telegraph at $2.126 billion (excluding Western Electric and other subsidiaries) among 776 companies recently surveyed by Business Week magazine.
IBM's spending for research and development last year was 27.4 percent more than in 1981, and equaled 46.6 percent of its profits and 6 percent of its sales, the magazine said.
Although the photochemical and microscopy discoveries came from basic research, they can have an effect on integrated circuit chips, a key component for a company whose products include business and personal computers. According to Present, IBM produced more 64K chips--used in its own products but not sold to other companies--than the rest of the world between 1979 and 1981.
He said that the challenge is to put more and more functions on each chip by making the circuits smaller--which means increasing understanding of the materials. Scanning tunneling microscopy was developed to further understand particular materials. "The more we know about the materials that are useful in making integrated circuits, the better we can understand them," Present said.
The process uses the wavelike properties of electrons to keep the tip of a probe at a very small but constant distance from the surface of an object. The slight movements necessary to do this can be represented by a line graph for each atom-wide scan. Removing the paper away from the line on each graph and then stacking the graphs produces a three-dimensional representation of the scanned surface.
Laser is an acronym for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. The laser was produced by Bell Telephone Laboratories scientists in 1960. It can emit highly directional beams of light useful for improved communications and for surgery to remove diseased body tissue or to "weld" loose retinas.
Lasers use a solid, gas or liquid to produce enhanced light. In the IBM experiments, when the highly intense laser beam produced with argon and fluorine struck organic material, it produced smaller molecules than other lasers do, and these molecules vaporized at relatively low temperatures.
This means that, in the photolithographic production of integrated circuits, residue can be removed during the etching of the photosensitive material used to form the circuits, ending the need to use chemical solvents.
Previously, laser beams used in surgery usually destroyed some molecules that should have remained. Because the new laser generates less heat, it can do a cleaner, more precise job.