Eli Harari: Engineering after Princeton
Posted August 19, 2010; 12:00 p.m.
SanDisk Corp. founder Eli Harari, who earned his Ph.D. at Princeton in 1973, describes how a successful inventor changes the world by pushing innovation. Read more.
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I'm Eli Harari.
I got my Ph.D. in 1973 in solid-state sciences.
I'm currently chairman and CEO of SanDisk Corp., a public
company located in Milpitas, Calif. A successful
inventor basically recognizes a deficiency or some kind of a
need and comes up with a solution and files a patent.
Ideas are great, but ideas are really a dime a dozen.
Taking that one idea that's going to change the world, and
actually changing the world, is what an entrepreneur
strives to achieve.
When I came to Princeton in 1969, this was the year that
America landed on the moon, and it was a very exciting time.
My research work at Princeton was basically to try to
understand why electronic devices in satellites were
failing after a very short time in space.
The laws of physics that applied to radiation effects in
space on early semiconductor devices turned out to be very
much the same physics that later on I applied in
flash memory technology.
What we found at SanDisk is that the technology was there.
We had developed it. It was ready to go.
Digital cameras were there to take advantage of storage
technology in flash that we had created.
But the markets weren't there. Consumers weren't ready.
The price was too high.
Most importantly, the entire ecosystem, the infrastructure, wasn't there.
It was really 1999, five-six years later, when the Internet
came on the scene -- the Web -- that people suddenly realized
that they didn't need to print their pictures, that they could
just send them by e-mail.
Suddenly, the infrastructure fell into place, and people
flocked to stores, and everybody wanted their digital cameras.
We've gone from $50 per megabyte to cents per megabyte in
the space of 18 years, and that has made flash memory so
affordable and so pervasive for so many applications, and all
based on early technology that I learned about and developed, during my Ph.d.
research work at Princeton.
Flash is now in literally thousands of different applications.
In the last 35 years, I have bought 130 patents.
The only way you can push innovation is to try
to obsolete yourself.
Everything that we've done until today, consider
Try to obsolete yourself, because if you don't,
others will do it to you.
No matter how fast you run, you can never stop.
You can never read on your laurels.
You should always be working on the next three
generations of technology.
My wife and I have endowed a graduate student fellowship.
It's the least I could do to pay back Princeton by enabling other
students, talented students from around the world, to
come and benefit from this phenomenal institution.
My name is Eli Harari, and I'm a Princeton engineer.