Harmke de Groot is Group Manager Electronics Development for EUV Source at ASML.

22 May

I must admit I’m not at my most creative right now, as I imagine many of you won’t be either. Working from home is one thing, working from home with two teenagers in the house is quite another. It’s pretty exhausting to sit in Skype and MS Teams calls all day while trying to keep up the family atmosphere a bit in times of bans and lock-downs. “No, you can’t go to X, Y and Z,” “the sports tournament, school trip and spring break are canceled,” “yes, we put on normal clothes because it’s a school day and we don’t stay in our pajamas all day” and of course the somewhat humbling “no, Mum and Dad’s work isn’t a critical occupation, it’s far more important that the garbage man and the restocker of shelves keep doing their job right now.”

So at first glance, you’d think that this corona crisis is a very bad time for new ideas and products in the high-tech industry. Yet history shows that the opposite is true: under difficult circumstances, often special innovations arise. Due to the international sanctions during the apartheid regime, South Africa developed its own advanced medical equipment. During the Great War, paper handkerchiefs, which we now need so much, were invented, as well as stainless steel and the zipper. The microwave was invented during the Second World War when radar radiation proved capable of heating food. The invention of blood transfusion at the same time saved the lives of many soldiers and by the end of the Second World War, kidney dialysis was also possible.

I certainly don’t want to trivialize the misery that the current pandemic is causing, but with history in mind, I see a silver lining. In less than a month, it proved possible to do things that have been talked about for years. Lectures can be given and (theoretical) exams can be taken online. Many universities will certainly keep this up until the end of the school year. And even if it creaks and squeaks a bit: online education at secondary schools also seems possible. Microsoft and other companies are bound to get more ideas for new features for their online collaboration platforms in a few months than they otherwise could have come up with in years.

And what about the enormous stimulus to collaborate between different companies and government agencies? Suddenly, it’s possible to exchange research data at an early stage between different medical development labs because the need to find a drug or vaccine against COVID-19 is so high. Finding investment money – normally one of the most time-consuming things to get from an idea to a product – is no longer a problem for this higher purpose. In the Netherlands, with the help of the government, companies are rushing to develop simplified respiration equipment.

Let all this inspire the high-tech industry. Just like kites take off thanks to headwind, good ideas can be quickly converted to products and services during hard times. Additionally, the pandemic created a sense of togetherness, boosted creativity to come up with out-of-the-box solutions and fostered a just-do-it mentality. People temporarily set aside their differences because the common goal of getting the coronavirus under control transcends all differences. Let’s hold on to that feeling, right now to fight the crisis but certainly when it’s over too. That would help enormously to convert great ideas into products faster in our industry.

I wish everyone good health.