Abbie (Carlstein) Gregg ’74 remembers giving up wearing lab gloves during her undergraduate research at MIT. There wasn’t enough to fit her, at a time when undergraduate men outnumbered women on campus 15 to 1. It was still the first time she had met other women. interested in engineering and technology – and she quickly found a home in the metallurgy department (now Materials Science and Engineering). Four decades later, Gregg has made a career of designing clean rooms and laboratories for semiconductor manufacturing and research around the world.
At MIT, Gregg was drawn to semiconductors. For her thesis, she and her collaborators sent semiconductor crystals into space on NASA’s Skylab to test the theory that gravity causes non-uniformities in crystal growth, which they believe would result in circuit malfunctions as the chips became more complex. “We brought the crystals back to Earth and measured them, and of course they were completely uniform,” she recalls; meanwhile, the ones they had cultivated on Earth “had all these non-uniformities.” Gregg would later revisit this work as a “thought experiment” for an aerospace company exploring the fabrication of devices in space.
After MIT, Gregg worked at Fairchild Semiconductor to improve its manufacturing. Through discussions with workers, “I became interested in the built environment and optimizing both human factors and product performance,” she says.
Gregg began designing semiconductor manufacturing plants, spending about 10 years as a “startup junkie” in various companies before founding Abbie Gregg, Inc. The company has completed some 850 projects, mostly for laboratories. academia, industry and government, before being purchased in 2019 by AM Technical Solutions (where Gregg is now CTO). She strives to create safe, functional and aesthetic spaces, with lots of windows and natural light. “People don’t put windows in cleanrooms because they say ‘We don’t want to look at an industrial scene,’” says Gregg. “But if a clean room isn’t beautiful, something’s wrong; it is poorly planned or not maintained.
One of Gregg’s favorite projects brought her back to where she started: MIT. She did the initial planning and design of cleanrooms and laboratories at MIT.nano, MIT’s new headquarters for nanotechnology research. Shortly after it opened, it visited the campus for its 45th reunion in 2019. “I stopped and watched the new graduates peek into this building and show their parents,” recalls- she. “It was the most incredible feeling. This is my heritage.