Leon Dean had been working on "block copolymers," self-assembling nanomaterials that can be used to pattern silicon wafers, for more than a year. But he knew only failure in trying to get them them to self-assemble into the right pattern before it finally happened.
"For the first time I saw perpendicular lines everywhere on the surface on the film. I had never seen anything like it. I remember running upstairs, telling Chris [Bates], my graduate student supervisor, 'Hey, you gotta come see this.'"
You never know if what you do is going to work, because if you did it wouldn't be science."
It was an extraordinary moment of discovery for the native of Spokane, Washington, who is graduating with a degree in chemical engineering, and is the son, grandson and great-grandson of engineers.
Dean is now co-author on a research paper that was published in Science, one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world. The overall process that Willson's lab has developed is being field-tested by a major manufacturer of hard disk drives and may lead to a fivefold increase in the disk's storage capacity.
And the record of accomplishment probably won't hurt when it's time for Dean to apply to graduate school, which he plans to attend in two years, after taking some time to attend bible school.