Materials Research Activities

Jan Friis Jørgensen interview

Jan Friis Jørgensen

interviewed on 6 March 2001 by Arne Hessenbruch;

raw transcription by Mary TianLun Yu, some editing by Arne Hessenbruch

Introductory page on Jan Friis Jørgensen

Arne Hessenbruch: Did you study physics?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: No, not at all, I am not a physicist. Many people think that I am, but actually I was educated in electrical engineering, got a master degree with a special within biomedical engineering. And I think I've worked around seven years within different fields of medical engineering, oral visuality and also all the sound diagnostics that we've took care. When I started in a small Danish company called DME, which is still existing, and producing STM, SPM, microsopes.

Arne Hessenbruch: When was this?

Jan Friis Jørgensen Ii think it was back in 89. I worked there for almost two years and in the beginning I was not meant to work on the STM, but they were behind schedule, so I was assigned to the project and I got stuck. I stayed there for almost two years.

Arne Hessenbruch: And you had never heard the STM before joining the company?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Not really.

Arne Hessenbruch: After joining and learning about the STM, what did it mean to you? Was it an exciting instrument?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Sure, very exciting, it was new. It was very new that people could visualize atoms, achieve atomic resolution, so it was of course attractive to work with. But as a software engineer, you are a little bit of an outsider because all the good people were physicists. It was physicists who had invented the microscope; nevertheless I recognised several problems in the microscope: even with very fine resolution there was much distortion in the images. Already at that time many people had tried to correct it - of course in hardware which is also the best way to do it if you can - but there are still many problems that could not be solved this way. So I thought why not? But there was no time for such work in that company, there was not enough resources, and there were many other things to do. I got a chance to work on it only upon leaving the company in November 1990, when I started on an industrial Ph.D being hired by IBM Denmark and collaborating with the Danish Institute of Fundamental Metrology and the Danish Technical University, the Image Processing Department. I finished in 1993. I could almost define the project as I wanted. I had already had seven years of experience working in private companies. But now I had to study again, and of course that was hard but it was also good to know about all the problems which I wanted to solve. It was a kind of a niche, because, as I have said before, most people at that time were physicist working on it, and so they had different approaches for solving the problems, and I used my small capabilities to solve that.

Arne Hessenbruch: Could you elaborate on the problems? The tip and sample overlap, is that the kind distortion we are talking about?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Well, that was the one distortion people had been very focused on: how well the tunneling process worked when scanning over the atoms and several people produced very good theories on how to understand these mechanisms, but when you were scanning over a hundred nanometers or more it didn't really matter. There were other sources of error in the equipment itself: the hysteresis of the scanner and of different kinds of noise in the operations. These were actually the main problems and I guess within science it was given too little attention. Of course it was more exciting to look at atoms.

Arne Hessenbruch: Was it a case of low and high status research?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: I don't know, it might have been. Anyway I think I found a niche; I solved some hysteresis problems in new ways that nobody had considered before. And it is a part of our living today.

Arne Hessenbruch: Are there more distortions?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: You mentioned the tip-sample which is of course a problem. It is understandable that to measure something very small, the probe should be at least as small to get a good image.

Arne Hessenbruch: That's not an issue you can address with your tools, is it?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: I can not address it today. At that time, when I made my Ph.D, I addressed the problem but I did not solve it, because I didnt't have the time for it, but other people solved it in meanwhile - I mean as best as you can. With software you can do a little, but you can't make everything perfect. Nonetheless software helps you a lot. First of all, you need an understanding of the shape of the tip. Some tips are simply too poor to use for imaging but others are acceptable. With these I can use software for correction and reconstruction, and this can lead to more accurate measurements.

Arne Hessenbruch: Were you alone in your field?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: There have been more papers on tip characterization and on understanding the tunnelling mechanism, while there have been few on hysteresis.

Arne Hessenbruch: But in your niche were you completely alone, or were there other people working on it, say around 1990, when you were doing your Ph.D.?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: There were a few working on metrology, but not with these automated image processing tools. I think at that time it was quite unique. There was nothing out there to copy, so I had to invent the tools myself.

Arne Hessenbruch: How did the opportunity to do an industrial Ph.D. come about?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: There was an ad in Ingeniøren, a Danish periodical for engineers.

Arne Hessenbruch: Whose advert?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: IBM Denmark and the Danish Institute of Fundamental Metrology.

Arne Hessenbruch: Was Kim Carneiro behind this?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Yes. I found it natural to also connect the Technical University to the project. So I ended up with three partners.

Arne Hessenbruch: The Ph.D topic was to write software to deal with the distortions in the machine itself, the noise coming from within?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Yes. Maybe there was also another approach, because there had been people before doing some software by making certain algorithms and demonstrating that it could work from the very beginning. I tried to enable others to use this and I built the house bigger and bigger. It's the still the same building but we have taken it from Unix to normal PCs to really reach many people. I also stayed also a couple of months at IBM in Rueschlikon where the STM and AFM was invented.

Arne Hessenbruch: When did you go there?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: It must have been 91 or 92 - I don't remember exactly.

Arne Hessenbruch: Were they interested in your project?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Sure, sure.

Arne Hessenbruch: Did they also recognize it as a niche?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Yes, but there was also skepticism. Some said: "well, people have been making software before, but when they leave the software gets lost because nobody knows how to use it and continue to work on it."

Arne Hessenbruch: This is a general problem of software, right? That it has to be made user friendily and to become independent of its maker.

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Yes. It's hard to get enough attention within a scientific institute I think, because their focus is on something else; there are barriers. At the beginning only physicists worked with the STM and nanotechnology. Now there are physicists, chemists, biochemists, biologists - a lot of people who previously did not communicate. They need to learn from each other now. And you can not build an STM without using a lot of different sciences, One of which is of course software. But at that time, people were happy simply to see an image on the screen after pushing a few buttons.

Arne Hessenbruch: So the demand for your software has developed with the increasing expectations of what you could do with a STM?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Maybe, I think at the time nobody believed you could start a company based on image processing for scanning probe microscopy.

Arne Hessenbruch: Because the market for SPM was very small?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Very small, but when I finished in 93 I considered commercializing and I discussed it. Nobody believed in it.

Arne Hessenbruch: Now it is feasible to run this as a business because the market is large enough?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: SPM is of course a niche but from a software engineer's point of view it's simply image processing. There's no shortage of images requiring treatment such as scanning electron microscope images and optical microscope images. We now have enough expertise to address the other markets too, so we kind of expand from the nanometer range of SPM to many other things around us.

Arne Hessenbruch: I would've expected the noise and distortion in other instruments to have been completely different so that you would not be able to draw on your expertise with SPMs.

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Many of our tools can be applied to other images. Some distortions are indeed peculiar to SPM images, but there are also some generalities. For instance, satellite images are scanned line by line the same way an STM image is, and this line by line scanning can give the same kind of distortions and artifacts in each type of image.

Arne Hessenbruch: I see; that is indeed very general. As a physics student I scanned photographs of the solar surface using an optical photometer and of course it scanned in just this way. Interesting! When you started your Ph.D., did you already think in terms of such generality?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Sure! You have to. I mean I didn't go into the field to just to be an SPM person. I wanted to learn something which I could use widely. Of course the SPM is interesting in itself, but image processing is also interesting in itself.

Arne Hessenbruch: All right; in 1993 you finished your Ph.D. What were your options then? Could you have gone to IBM?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Probably yes; I didn't really try. I didn't because I really wanted to stay in the field of STM. I think there was still a lot of work to do so I continued at DFM.

Arne Hessenbruch: What about the big STM companies like Digital Instruments and Park, could you have gone to them, were they interested?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: At that time, I didn't have much contact with them, and they do not pay much attention to single individuals. You really have to scream loudly to get their attention. Of course they know me now; I have visiting several such companies. I visited Digital Instruments back in the autumn of 99, and I gave my talk twice. The second one was in an R&D meeting and that brought me a lot of attention. There is potential for some cooperation with them. Actually we have a non-disclosure agreement with them to solve their instruments' hysteresis problem. But they act slowly.

Arne Hessenbruch: What was attractive about DFM for you after the Ph.D?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: That I could continue the work on image processing within the same field, SPM. Also, while working on SPM, I looked for a post-doc position. I finally found one at the [U.S.] National Institute of Science and Technology, which had relations with DFM, because both are metrological institutions. At NIST they also worked with SPM and I could do some image processing there. So, it was a very attractive position for me.

Arne Hessenbruch: Did they have a big outfit for STM problems at NIST?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Not that big, but they were working on what I would call a a high risk project: a "molecular measure machine". The idea was to measure several milimeters across while keeping atomic resolution. At least atomic resolution it is very hard to measure even 100 nanometers across. In addition, they not only wanted atomic resolution but also to use interferometers and things like that in order to make all the accurate measurements. Of course, the more equipment you add, the heavier the construction and much can go wrong. So, it was a high risk project. I actually think it is still running. Obviously they have learned a lot by working on these complicated projects and I contributed a little software.

Arne Hessenbruch: How long were you at NIST?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: One year. I came back and worked at DFM for almost two years.

Arne Hessenbruch: And you started your own company. Thinking about intellectual property, how have you managed this? For example, write software at NIST, they presumably get the rights? How does this work?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Well, I carried most of my software with me, so it was mostly a matter of porting it to run on their Sun machines. The difficulties centered on being able to read and handle their special file formats. So, I wouldn't claim that I made an invention while at NIST.

Arne Hessenbruch: The experience at NIST rather taught you something about generalizing your software to be used on various other systems.

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Yes.

Arne Hessenbruch: Presumably that is a continuous story now that you put it on Windows, as you mentioned.

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Yes, we jumped from Unix to Windows. The market for Unix was not that big even then and it is not really growing.

Arne Hessenbruch: So what did you learn from the NIST experience? What did you take home?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Well, a lot of connections. Very often, the best you get is getting to know people and to discuss problems with them. I recognized some new problems within SPM I hadn't known about before, which of course leads to new ideas for solutions.

Arne Hessenbruch: For example?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: We are getting deep into the way you scan. Scanning with a tip, you might have some friction making the tip bend. When scanning from left to right it bends one way, and when scanning from right to left it bends the other way. At the time most people thought that it was only in the AFM that you have these problems. Probably the most important thing I learnt was from their instrument that was more accurate than any I had ever seen before which enabled us to track very small residual errors. This showed me that the problem just mentioned is more general. We needed algorithms to improve the accuracy in order to measure at the sub-pixel level. Some of the algorithms which we have developed more recently for metrological systems are based on my experience at NIST.

Arne Hessenbruch: Let me make sure I understand. How would you know about the friction? From a systematic difference in the scanning this way and scanning that way.

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Yes, you can see systematic dissimilarities between left to right and right to left.

Arne Hessenbruch: But that would only work if you stay in one line and just go to and fro, right?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: You could do that but you can also take every second line. Usually, if you make an image, it's only from left to right. They were scanning one line left to right and then the second line back the other way, and you can address all kinds of different hysteresis problems. And if the lines are not aligned then you need to analyze how much the odd lines shifted compare to the even lines. That's very technical.

Arne Hessenbruch: But this would work only for a homogeneous surface, wouldn't it? You know, if you have a very inhomogeneous surface where every line is different, you can't really tell what is the error and what is a sample, right?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Yes and no. The best thing is of course if you have something like a test structure on a homogeneous surface, but the closer the scan lines are together, the higher is the correlation, so by image processing and correlation techniques, you can actually correct for them. For instance, you can take every second line and make a cross relation and from that see that the line in between had been shifted, maybe just by 0.5 pixel.

Arne Hessenbruch: I see - and this shift is likely due to the bending of the tip scanning the sample surface?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: You can hysteresis in more ways. You can have it in the piezo itself and indeed in other mechanical parts.

Arne Hessenbruch: And so what you have to do is to identify all the various kinds of hystereses and adjust?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: All the non-linearities.

Arne Hessenbruch: Okay, let's get back to the chronology. The STM project continued at DFM after your post-doc?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Yes, I got a permanent position which included other tasks. I became head of the consultancy section. So, I was able to continue my image processing work, but only part time.

Arne Hessenbruch: Consultancy for whom?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Everybody who wanted to buy our services. So, of course, one service I wanted to sell was image processing.

Arne Hessenbruch: Any image processing?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Yes, but we particularly wanted to sell our SPM expertise. People who come to DFM to get some images of a surface and a report. We had a few jobs, and the number of these jobs have increased.

Arne Hessenbruch: I am curious about the volume of this demand over time, if you have a sense of it. You started in 95; presumably there were very few few companies in 95 asking for such services? Actually, was it companies that came for your services or government bodies?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: No, it was university research institutes. They are still the majority but more and more high-tech companies are now using SPMs.

Arne Hessenbruch: Do you have a sense of how many SPMs there were in Denmark in 1995?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: I think we arranged our first user meeting in 93 or 94. We were only 20 or so; in 96 maybe 50 people attended our user meeting.

Arne Hessenbruch: And each person corresponds to one instrument?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: No, no, it's hard to say, because each one of those people may have had five, six, seven, eight instruments, or even more. But still there weren't that many in Denmark and there aren't even today.

Arne Hessenbruch: Can you put a number on it?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: No, it's hard for me to put a number on it. I know for certain that DFM has four which I use. One is shared with DTI, the Microelectronic Center and the physical department here have one. I am not actually sure whether it is in working order, but they will eventually build a new one.

Arne Hessenbruch: They will build a new one? They don't buy off the shelf?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: They build it or buy from the Aarhus group.

Arne Hessenbruch: The DFM services are for people who come with their data right? They don't come with an STM, so that, say, you would build the software into their software package.

Jan Friis Jørgensen: No, we never did that. Of course there are many ways you can use USB expertise. But the kind of job I had was like the one where I simply received some images from a company in America and had to give some feedback on distortions and such things. So, they can bring images that I analyze. Other customers came with surfaces to be measured and analyzed. We SPM-recalled and analyzed.

Arne Hessenbruch: Working here at the DFM, did you use your software in real time, adjusting while the SPM scanned? In other words, did you build the software into the SPM? Or did you measure the data first, and then run the software on the data set?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: I never got to build the software into SPM. Before I left for NIST, we had started a project at DME with the intention of integrating our hysteresis algorithms into their software but we never finished. I forget why, but it also had to do with my going to America.

Arne Hessenbruch: How much of the starting your own company was your own desire to do it and how much was the current pressures in academia?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: There was no pressure

Arne Hessenbruch: None at all?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: No, no. You have to fight for what you want.

Arne Hessenbruch: You wanted to start your own company?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Sure! And nobody pushed, not at all.

Arne Hessenbruch: In that case, the market issue we broached briefly before must have been very important. The number of SPMs in existence must be a crucial one for you. But we talked only about the number of SPMs in Denmark, and obviously you want to sell globally.

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Oh yes. Denmark is very small market. We could almost exist without it.

Arne Hessenbruch: What precisely are you selling? The service of unscrambling data or the software? I have noticed that you do offer free downloads on your website. What's the business rationale for doing that?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Well, we are not doing any conventional marketing, so this is a actually crucial part of the marketing. People can go by themselves and find the product and try it and if they are happy, they might want to buy the full package.

Arne Hessenbruch: Okay, it's a test, it's a demo.

Jan Friis Jørgensen: It's a demo. It's very easy to give them the full version, we can just email them a key and they can implement it in ten minutes.

Arne Hessenbruch: Do you have any sense of how many people download this program?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Yes, around 2000 different people.

Arne Hessenbruch: 2000 downloaded demos?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Yes. We are preparing a release and once we have it, we will send a email out to to everyone who has downloaded in the past and then I will be able to update on our numbers. It has been a long time since I checked but I think it will be around two thousands.

Arne Hessenbruch: Presumably the idea is to sell new versions and upgrades?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: We are working very gently with this. When they buy, they get one year of free upgrades. It's part of the deal that whenever we have improvements for the modules they bought we send them without further cost for the next year. This is big selling point because we are upgrading very fast. We don't want our customers to have an obsolete product.

Arne Hessenbruch: So this a long term business plan? I mean, small businesses don't usually make a profit in the first year, and one couldn't expect that of you either?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: That's true

Arne Hessenbruch: Are you in profit yet?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Yes, right now we are.

Arne Hessenbruch: Wow, that's great!

Jan Friis Jørgensen: We had some positive surprises in February [2001]. So, it's quite a good development; it keeps us busy.

Arne Hessenbruch: How many people are you?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Only three. I have had a permanent employee for one year now and we have also been using some students who have since left. No we have three permanent people.

Arne Hessenbruch: And you are all software people?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Yes.

Arne Hessenbruch: No marketing people?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: No, not yet.

Arne Hessenbruch: So that will happen?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Yes. It has always been part of our business plan. But the timing is not right now.

Arne Hessenbruch: How do you work out the business structure with the not-for profit institutions that you collaborate with?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: It's not a problem. That's why we are here. It's definitely an advantage. It's most important for us to have somebody around us using the software heavily in their work.

Arne Hessenbruch: They can tell you about the troubleshooting?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Yes, but not only errors, also new ideas and feedback on what they need. That is very important to us and we encourage all of our customers to give us feedback. New ideas are often built into free upgrades.

Arne Hessenbruch: What's in it for the Danish Technical University to have you here?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: I do not know. Of course, we are paying rent here and we can contribute to their visibility, showing that they are helping new companies. Actually, we are talking about the Danish Institute for Fundamental Metrology which is not a part of DTU. It's like DTI, a self-owned technological service institute; most of their income stems from project money from the government. We have a license agreement with them. They get 5% of everything we sell and they are a part owner.

Arne Hessenbruch: Are they under pressure to show their relevance for Danish industry? Is that what you meant by visibility?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Sure, if you can show that a successful company was spun off an academic or government institute the latter would have an easier time getting money later on.

Arne Hessenbruch: What competition have you got in this field of unscrambling SPM images?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: I think we are probably the only company making software exclusively. There are some other companies selling software to go with hardware, the latter being their main business.

Arne Hessenbruch: Such as Thermo Microscopes, and Digital Instruments?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: Thermo Microscopes are only selling software to their own customers, I think. There is a small Spanish company coming up with some software right now. So, I have to consider whether they are a competitor or not. When I started I expected my major competitor to come from the United States. Don Chernov has a company called Advanced???. He had something and it was very expensive - it was still in the DOS world. I think it has changed since then and in this respect I don't really regard them as competitors. So right now we are sitting pretty and have only a few competitors. And for those people who really want accurate and serious measurements, the competition is very small.

Arne Hessenbruch: So you are not worried about people downloading and doing some reverse engineering and so on?

Jan Friis Jørgensen: One should of course always pay attention to such issues.

Arne Hessenbruch: Thank you very much!

This page was last updated on 20 July 2002 by Arne Hessenbruch.