Francoise von Trapp

They call me the “Queen of 3D” because I have been following the course of…

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Severine Cheramy has devoted her career to developing 3D integration technologies and bringing them to market. She was the first person to show me what a TSV wafer looked like when I visited CEA-Leti’s cleanroom in 2009 during my Tour de France in 3D. At the time, she was a project leader working under Nicolas Sillon, lab manager. Little did I know that we would become SemiSisters and that 10 years later, she would be leading 3D business development at CEA-Leti as the IRT 3D Director.

Because we were both wearing full cleanroom suits with only our eyes exposed when we first met, it took me a little while to connect the articulate presenter who wore fashionable outfits at technical conferences with the person I first met in the cleanroom. When she launched the 3D VLSI Workshop a few years ago, 3D InCites partnered with her and CEA-Leti to promote and cover it. Some time ago, we sat down to talk about her journey. Now seems as good a time as any to share it.

Farm to 3D Fab

Cheramy grew up on a farm in Normandy. Her family raised goats. She was the youngest of three, with two older brothers. She says it wasn’t so natural growing up on a farm to go study science, but she always loved physics, chemistry, and math. “My parents let me do what I wanted, provided I worked hard at school,” she says. “They always encouraged me.”  She earned a general engineering diploma in Engineering, with a focus on physics and math.

Like most of the women I’ve interviewed, Cheramy didn’t set out to pursue a career in the semiconductor industry. Her first job out of university was in the aeronautics industry. After a year, she moved on to Schlumberger, an international oilfield services company. That was in 2000, when the company was investing in emerging technologies like sensors use in oil exploration and smart cards for SIM or banks. Schlumberger spun off its smart card division, Axalto (now merged with Gemplus as Gemalto). There she worked on component development for product lines like SIM cards, biometric passports, and contactless payment systems.

In 2008, she joined CEA-Leti as a project manager in 3D, and the rest, as they say, is history. She went on to become the lab manager, business development manager, and then director of IRT 3D. Much of her work has been in the development of bonding processes for 3D ICs.

Overall, Cheramy is happy with her chosen path in the semiconductor industry. “I’m proud of my evolution,” says Cheramy. “I’m always learning— thanks to my colleagues and my work environment. I haven’t changed between many companies in 20 years.” Even when I asked about low points in her career, she couldn’t come up with one.

She finds working in R&D and industrial research for the semiconductor industry exciting because she is always learning, and there is constant change. As director of business development, it’s her job to identify what could be the next trend in 3D in the next 3-5 years. “As CEA-Leti is not publicly funded, we need to anticipate the next industry’s trends and convince the industry to invest in technology and in CEA-Leti,” She explained. “We also make sure our engineers are anticipating the future. I follow the news to see what is needed to enable the next technology trends.”

Does she ever wish she had chosen a different path? Cheramy says in her teens, she had a passion for theater and would have pursued an acting career if her parents had agreed. But they saw it as a fun pastime, not a job. Now that her own children have become “fully autonomous” she has gone back to acting for fun. She says it helped her in her work by making her more comfortable speaking in public. In this industry, where so few women present at conferences, it’s a great skill to have.

What Success Looks Like

Probably the greatest challenges Cheramy faced in her career occurred during her studies, when she was only one of two women out of 40 in all classes (physics and math) except for chemistry. But those numbers are changing. In fact, there is a strong initiative in France to promote science and engineering in high school, and the numbers of women are increasing. No longer will you find only two or three women in a class of 40.

Cheramy’s advice to young women who want to pursue a career in the semiconductor industry: “Don’t be scared. In France and in the world, the students with the best high school grades are women. The reason they don’t continue excellence in performance is fear. They think they need to do better.”

Additionally, it is possible in France to combine professional and family life. “When you have children, you can stop working for a few months, and still come back at the similar level that you were at before,” she said. “You can also work part-time and be a soccer mom.” Cheramy said that both in the public and private sector, this work-life balance is supported by employers and the government.

Cheramy measures her success by the fact that every day, she comes to work and leaves happy. While not everyone can say even that, I think she is being humble. She participated with the global 3D teams to achieve 1µm pitches in wafer-to-wafer and to reach a die-to-wafer approach with direct hybrid bonding. CEA-Leti is also launching a multi-project wafer as part of Leti’s CoolCubeTM program, a true VLSI 3D IC solution. If that doesn’t describe a woman on the edge of 3D, I don’t know what does.