Thursday, 25 May 2017

Where were you when I asked that question?

This post continues on an earlier post describing the ALD history activities before VPHA.

Triggered by events in the NetherlandsFinland and latest Latvia and the way that the history of ALD has been presented in them, I am finally writing a post which has been forming in the back of my mind for several months.

During the years, it has happened to me repeatedly that people start telling me their exact location "when you asked that question". They always refer to the ALD 2004 conference, "A joint American Vacuum Society ALD and Baltic ALD conference Celebrating 30 years of ALD", Helsinki, Finland, August 16-18, 2014. The conference pages were until quite recently still available at the address; now they seem to have disappeared. It should still be possible to obtain the abstract book here.

As the title says, the conference was celebrating thirty years from the invention of ALD in Finland in 2004. Dr. Tuomo Suntola was deservedly one of the invited speakers. His presentation is still available through his webpage, a link can be found also in the VPHA list of ALD history publications.

When the conference preparations started, I was a postdoctoral fellow at IMEC, Belgium. I of course wanted to participate in the conference, now that this big international event would arrive in Finland. I submitted several abstracts of my works (and got one talk + posters).

At IMEC, I had started to look into the history of ALD, as described in detail earlier here. I was well aware that ALD has not only been invented in Finland but also in USSR, and that the USSR work pre-dates that made in Finland. Seeing the title of the conference, "Celebrating 30 years of ALD", I was not quite sure what to think of it. My feeling was that I cannot be the only one who knows that this title is not correct. Don't they know, or don't they want to know?

In advance, I had decided that the other branch of ALD deserves attention at the conference. I had thought that after Suntola's talk, if there is a chance for questions, I will take the question and I will ask something related to the Molecular Layering (ML) works, to bring it to everyone's attention.

Suntola delivered an interesting talk at the ALD 2004 conference, describing the history of ALD in Finland and its worldwide impact. Suntola also mentioned also how he got to know the Russian works and presented them in his history timeline. His time bar of ML spanned the same time range as his time bar for ALE. With my current knowledge, I know that Suntola did not know very much of what the Russian ALD works actually had been (none of us did!), but he knew something, and he told openly what he knew.

Then came the end of Suntola's talk. Prof Ritala was the chairperson of the conference and of this particular session, too. The programme had run a bit overtime, and there would be time for just one quick question. I needed to get this one! I decided to be so visible requesting the question that I couldn't be ignored. My hand was up and most likely I was standing, too. It worked: I am sure that there were other hands up, but the chairperson gave me the question. My question was: "Can you comment on: why have the Russian works not been cited" (or similar to that, I did not have the microphone while asking, so one cannot check my question from the conference records available through AVS - what you can check from there is Suntola's answer). Suntola answered something of the works having been secret. This is of course only partly true: there are many publications available, both in Russian and in English, and have been there for a long time. I knew it then, and so did e.g. Dr. Tom Seidel, who sat a few rows in front of me, and with whom we exchanged quick looks.

My question was perhaps simple and what the answer exactly had been, did not matter. The important thing was that now many more people were aware of the USSR/Russian works.

"I was standing behind Ritala when you asked that question." "I was at ... when you asked that question". Many people have come telling me where they were at that very moment when I asked that question. I have been told that the audience froze at that moment. I did not notice anything of that then myself.

I have thought of this moment many times afterwards. In a way it feels unfair for Suntola that he did not get a question that related to his own work, which he would have deserved, but rather a question on someone else's work. I have actually excused for him for making this question later (in 2015 this was, I think). Still, I would probably do the same again if I needed to. The other branch of ALD needed to become exposed to a large audience.

We people working at the university have an obligation to find out. Academics are bound by the ethical guidelines of research. In Finland it is the TENK guidelines, which have been signed by all major universities; in other countries something else but the contents will be largely similar. Scientists have the obligation to "find, and then cite" all relevant publications - see the TENK instructions (Item 3 written out in the references below). International voluntary cooperation within the VPHA framework has been an excellent way how to find out.

Currently - finally - the way that the history of ALD is presented, is changing. For example, Prof Greg Parsons presented at the ASD 2017 event the Molecular Layering branch of ALD, too and appropriately acknowledged the VPHA. In Latvia, I presented the progress obtained in Virtual Project in the History of ALD again---presentation slides can be viewed in SlideShare and a live record in Panopto.

--- Where were you when I asked that question?


  • TENK instructions, dated 14 November 2012, Item 3: "The researcher takes due account of the work and achievements of other researchers by respecting their work, citing their publications appropriately, and by giving their achievements the credit and weight they deserve in carrying out the researcher’s own research and publishing its results."

Virtual Project on the History of ALD (VPHA) - in atmosphere of Openness, Respect, and Trust

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