Too successful to retire

Ronald Vane ’67 has always been up for adventures. He was raised in California and wanted to learn more about the country and to experience snow. Cornell made his short list because it was certified by the American Chemical Society, and he enrolled after a solo train trip to visit campus.

Ron Vane ’67
Ron Vane ’67

These days he’s got a lot on his plate. He still runs the company he founded, XEI Scientific. He recently applied for his eighth patent, which will improve processes for the company’s main service: cleaning electron microscopes.

During his time on the Hilltop, where he majored in chemistry and physics, he served four years as the student manager for the Rams football team. Road trips with the team allowed him to see a good deal of the upper Midwest and to engage in his love of railroads.

“On the road trips I could tell which companies operated which lines of track,” he says, adding that he loved the many trains traveling past campus. “I’d go to the window of my room to see what the train was carrying.”

After Cornell, Vane earned a master of science in chemical physics at the University of Colorado and headed back to the Bay Area to look for work. He took a series of jobs working with scientific instruments, including CT scanners and electronic beam lithography. He landed in the division of Hitachi that supported electron microscopes.

“Contamination was a big issue,” he says. “I learned IBM had developed a process that used dry nitrogen to clean the electron microscopes. We acquired the technology, and I worked on commercializing it for Hitachi.”

After a recession cost him his job, he decided to strike out on his own.

“I knew the technology and I had contacts in the industry. I started building the units in my garage and selling them.”

He was unsatisfied with the performance of the technology, and worked continually to improve the process, using air plasma (O2) to clean the microscopes of organic contaminants by chemical reaction. In 2004 Vane incorporated XEI Scientific to build and sell the tools, which were upgraded several times as he developed and patented new technology. XEI Scientific’s customers include semiconductor companies and materials scientists. Its biggest accounts are the manufacturers of electron microscopes.

When he founded the company,

he told his employees he was going to retire soon. “It’s 13 years later and here we are, introducing a new product,” he says.

To balance his work life, Vane serves on the board of the Golden Gate Railroad Museum, which collects and restores railroad locomotives and cars. And he takes zumba dancing six times a week.

Vane has maintained contact with Cornell through the years, returning for class reunions and, with his wife Donna, making a significant contribution to the new science building.

“A liberal arts education has helped me be able to connect things in ways that expand my knowledge,” he says. “Making those connections is what I’ve done in my life.”