August 30, 2022
Senajith “Seno” Rekawa grew up in Sri Lanka, moved to the United States in 1989, and attended Diablo Valley College and then the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He first came to Berkeley Lab in 1991 as a summer intern, where he helped build the Advanced Light Source storage ring.
Rekawa is now Chief Engineer and Deputy Director for Operations at the Center for X-Ray Optics (CXRO). He won a Director’s Award in 2021 and was a recipient of the Klaus Halbach Award for Innovative Instrumentation at the ALS, among other honors, and is active in IDEA. In 2021, he was elected president of the American Society for Precision Engineering.
Outside the Lab, Rekawa has coached soccer and rugby for his son’s teams, serves on the advisory committee of the engineering department at San Jose State University, and helps Hospital Services Support Foundation, which helps find equipment to send to needy hospitals in Sri Lanka.
When did you first become interested in engineering?
As a child, I was always a mechanical person. My family is all lawyers. That may have even pushed me to go to the engineering side because I was always listening to this boring lawyer talk at the dinner table. I’m the only person in my family who is interested in the technical stuff. When I was 12, I had a Mini-Cooper I used to take apart and modify. If anything broke around the house – a dishwasher, washing machine – I was the one to fix it. From 1987 to 1989, there was an armed uprising against the government of Sri Lanka. So, I decided to move to the United States right after high school.
What do you do at the Lab?
Scientists come to me with research ideas and expect me to build instruments that no one else in the world has built. It can be a very high-precision extreme ultraviolet lithography tool or a mask inspection tool for advanced microelectronic research. I would then look at what it is that they want and what they need and come up with a project plan and assemble a team of experts and start designing and building. We really need to understand the specifications and take a step back and say, how do we get there? Most of the tools are designed to print or image features close to 8 nanometers – 100,000th of a hair – vibration and temperature stabilities are critical in designing high-precision motion systems. For example, we recently developed the world’s highest resolution projection lithography tool (MET5) for semiconductor research.
How has the Lab changed since you started in 1995 as a full-time employee?
It's changed quite a bit but many things have stayed the same. We are building a really good safety culture. There is now more planning for projects since we need to include asking if the infrastructure can support the project and what is the best timing for the project.