New Engineering Division Director Yaffa Tomkiewicz an Expert in Solid State Physics

February 21, 1997

By Monica Friedlander

Yaffa Marianna Tomkiewicz, a scientist internationally recognized for her work in solid state physics, has been appointed director of Berkeley Lab's Engineering Division. The first woman to head the division, she replaces outgoing director Edward L. Burgess, who has held the position since 1989.

"Dr. Tomkiewicz has demonstrated a high level of technical accomplishments as a scientist and as an engineering manager," said Lab Director Charles Shank in announcing the appointment. "I look forward to working with her in assuring that the Laboratory continues to have world-class engineering support for our programs."

Tomkiewicz's experience includes more than two decades at IBM, a career which culminated in the development of the highly acclaimed magnetoresistive head, which allowed for a great increase in disk storage capacity. Her work at IBM spanned the spectrum of both basic and applied physics and chemistry --from research into solid state physics, to product development, management of technical programs, and the introduction of the magnetic heads to the computer storage business. Her position at the Lab represents Tomkiewicz's first venture into government research.

"The breath of technology here at Berkeley is mind-boggling," she said. "This is a very interesting transition for me from industry to government-managed research. The people I have met here are very exciting and knowledgeable, and the facilities are very impressive. I look forward to starting some collaborations with colleagues in Berkeley."

A native of Czechoslovakia, Tomkiewicz earned her Ph.D. at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, before starting her career in the United States. While she takes great pride in her achievements, she is more than eager to share credit with the teams of scientists she has led along the way. In fact, she places high value on her ability to attract quality people to her projects.

"There are a lot of experiences which I can bring from industry," she said, "including the ability to attract funding and hire good people in a very competitive market, which I believe this is."

Tomkiewicz started her career in basic research in the early and mid-1970s, working in the area of solid state physics, particularly with organic conductors and conducting polymers. While at IBM, her interests shifted to applied physics. Her work quickly progressed from development of packaging technologies, to manufacturing research, and eventually to the development of the magnetoresistive heads. This development paved the way to position IBM in a leadership role in high density storage.

"Even now, eight years later," she said, "this development is still in the forefront of technology." The magnetoresistive heads led to a dramatic increase in computer disk storage density--that is, the amount of information that can be stored in a given area, which she estimates is now going up by approximately 60 percent each year in the computer industry.

Following this achievement, Tomkiewicz went on to manage an engineering group at Quantum Corp., where she oversaw the development and manufacturing ramp-up of the magnetoresistive heads. In 1995 she formed G.R. Enterprises, a technology and consulting company in the arena of magnetic heads.

Her predecessor in the Engineering Division, Ed Burgess, is returning to his work as project manager for the Dual Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Testing project.

"Throughout, Ed has been a dedicated manager," said Director Shank, "uncompromising in matters of excellence and integrity." During his years as division director, Burgess was involved with such prestigious projects as the Keck Telescope, the STAR Detector, the Human Genome Center, and the Advanced Light Source.

Tomkiewicz said she was surprised to find out she is the first woman to head the division, an honor she does not take lightly.

"I've always believed that women can perform as well or better than men," she said. "But I always wanted to be treated as one of the guys, and I refused to be regarded as a token person. I really look forward to performing well because it would give a good example to all competent women."

She said she believes that as a woman she had more opportunities for professional growth in the United States than she would have had in most places in the world. She speaks fondly of her adopted country.

"Nobody was ever concerned about my Israeli accent," Yaffa Tomkiewicz said. "Nor did I have to change my name--which is not to be confused with the famous product of Israel." Jaffa oranges, that is.

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