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Українець Любомир Романків зачислений до Винахідницького Залу Слави поряд із Стівом Джобсом

ВІД РЕДАКЦІЇ: Шановні читачі, пропонуємо до вашої уваги статтю про видатного українського винахідника сучасності Любомира Романківа. Вперше надрукована у Віснику Університету Альберти (The University of Alberta Alumni Magazine, Autumn 2012, Vol. 68, N 2), автор  Rick Pilger.


One Very Big Very Small Invention

By Rick Pilger

On May 2 of this year, both Lubomyr T. Romankiw, ’55 BSc(Eng) and Steve Jobs were among those inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Washington, D.C. Had the Apple co-founder been alive to participate, he could have been expected to shake Lubomyr’s hand with extra warmth—for without the work of the U of A alumnus in making data storage compact and affordable, there may well have been no Apple computer, no iPod, no iPhone.

Lubomyr Romankiw at IBM headquaters

Had things turned out differently, the man who co-invented the thin-film read/write head for IBM may have spent his career as a professor at the University of Alberta. When Lubomyr finished his doctorate at MIT, he was offered a position in materials engineering at the U of A. However, rather than wait a year for the funding to be acquired, he accepted a job offer with IBM. That was in 1962, and he has been there ever since. Today, he serves as a fellow at the company’s T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., where he mentors younger researchers and pursues projects of his choosing.

At IBM, Lubomyr built up the Center for Electrochemical Technology and Microfabrication. He is credited with being instrumental in changing the perception of electroplating—the same basic process used in days past to rechrome metal bumpers—from an unpredictable art to an important branch of science and technology.

Beginning in the late 1960s, he brought his expertise in electroplating to the project that would ultimately take him and his IBM colleague David Thompson to the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Using patented photolithography and the electroplating techniques Lubomyr had invented, they dramatically improved the data storage capacity of magnetic disk drives, decreasing the size of the disks from 24 to 2.5 inches in diameter.

Interestingly, one of the first customers for their compact new head was Steve Wozniak, who was building the desktop computer he and Jobs would transform into Apple Computers. “Exactly when the first small disk went on the market, he bought it from IBM,” recalls Lubomyr. “That was before IBM began building its own desktops.”

Lubomyr Romankiw as a member of Plast (Ukrainian scout organisation)

The basic processes and structures Lubomyr pioneered have been used ever since by virtually all magnetic head manufacturers around the world. “The way it’s done is still about the same,” says Lubomyr. “It uses the materials and processes I developed with my group.”

That innovative technology has led to an amazing drop in the cost of data storage—from about $500,000 per gigabyte in 1979 to less than 50 cents today—and has ushered in the new digital age. Without massive low-cost storage and rapid access to stored data, we would not have the Internet, genetic engineering, genomics, the International Space Station or much else we now take for granted.

Lubomyr admits to thinking about retiring, “but then another challenge comes along,” he says ruefully. Right now, he’s scaling up the work he did scaling down magnetic heads in order to create better solar panels.

In total, he holds 67 patents and has more than 150 published inventions, but throughout his career he has been as much a mentor as an inventor. At IBM, he assembled, trained and led a group of outstanding electrochemists, chemical engineers and material scientists, with whom he solved a number of key problems in electrochemistry and electronics.

To his protégés he offers the advice that defines his own life: “Go the extra mile and persevere. Put your heart, mind and soul in what you are doing. Let go of your ideas so they can bloom in others. And”—perhaps nothing describes him more—“let others be caught up by seeing your own enthusiasm for what you do.”

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