Sandia Labs News Releases

Inaugural American Vacuum Society award goes to Sandia technologist

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The American Vacuum Society has honored Sandia National Laboratories technologist Catherine Sobczak with its inaugural Thin Film Division Distinguished Technologist Award for providing exceptional technical support of thin film research and development.

Sobczak will be formally recognized next fall by the society’s Thin Film Division at the society’s 63rd International Symposium & Exhibition in Nashville, Tennessee.

“It’s an honor to receive this award. The people who nominated me are high-level folks in the vacuum technology field. It’s nice to be recognized for all your years of service doing this,” Sobczak said.

Sandia National Laboratories technologist Catherine Sobczak prepares a silicon wafer to load into a machine. She has been honored with the inaugural Thin Film Distinguished Technologist Award from the American Vacuum Society. (Photo by Randy Montoya) Click on the thumbnail for a high-resolution image.

The award cites her contributions over the course of her career, both at Sandia and earlier at the Phillips Research Site at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base. She works with thin films, a form of coating used in everything from eyeglasses to microchips.

Manager Deidre Hirschfeld presented her a certificate that goes along with the honor. Sobczak said colleagues made sure the November presentation would be a surprise: “They told me to dress up because we were all going to get an award for something else.”

‘Outstanding technologist’ in thin film coatings

Hirschfeld said Sobczak is one of the outstanding technologists working in thin film coatings. “She takes the initiative to fully understand any work assigned to her then uses her knowledge and experience to help develop process improvements,” Hirschfeld said. “This international award recognizes the important contributions of technologists who are working in the background and often overlooked. It is the technologists who do the experiments then collect, organize and help interpret data while ensuring that equipment is in working order.”

The Thin Film Division, in a call for nominations earlier this year, said, “We are all indebted to the support provided at some point in our careers by outstanding technologists and technicians, and this award is meant to recognize the importance of that role in thin film research and development.”

Sobczak started her career in thin films at CVI Laser Optics in Albuquerque and was trained in physical vapor deposition by Mark Halliburton, now with Sandia, and former Sandia researcher Eric Jones Jr. Among her mentors at Phillips were the late Chuck Carniglia; David Reicher and George Luke, both now retired; and Bradley Pond, now with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. Sandia mentors include Ron Goeke, Juan Romero and David Adams, all in Sandia’s Coatings and Additive Manufacturing department.

“Everyone I have worked with has been enormously supportive,” she said.

The New Mexico Chapter of the American Vacuum Society (AVS) created and endowed the national award to honor its founders and their contributions.

AVS, founded in 1953, supports networking among government, industrial, academic and consulting professionals in a variety of disciplines, including engineering, chemistry, physics, biology, mathematics and business through common interests related to the basic science, technology, development and commercialization of materials, interfacing and processing. It has about 4,500 members worldwide.

Sandia National Laboratories is a multiprogram laboratory operated and managed by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp., for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

Sandia news media contact: Sue Holmes,, (505) 844-6362