My research activities in Erlangen (1996-2011)
On his appointment as the Chair of Materials Science 6 at the University of Erlangen in 1992, Prof. Dr. Albrecht Winnacker's research activities focused on sublimation growth of bulk crystals of wide bandgap materials and their characterization. During the nineties, the team developed the preparation of SiC bulk single crystals what eventually led to the formation of the spin-off company SiCrystal AG. I studies Materials Science at this chair and took my share in developing SiC growth technology in my diploma theses 1998 and my PhD research work that was finshed in 2002 (see also below).
Starting in 2001, Boris Epelbaum and me worked to establish bulk single crystal growth of AlN. For this we used the SiC grwoth stations and soon after, we developed and built our own machines. At that time, AlN bulk growth was still in its infancy, and only two teams in the U.S. (and one in Russia) were investigating this topic. I was active in crystal growth and later I focused on building the growth stations and characterizing the AlN samples. Aside from that I advanced my academic career by giving lectures and providing seminars and live exercises at the university. In 2008, I finished my 'habilitation', a German qualification as a lecturer, on growth and characterization of AlN single crystals.
By the time, Dr. Octavian Filip and Paul Heimann joined our team (see group photo), as well as Dr. Shunro Nagata who worked for a joint development with his Japanese company. Due to active help from technicians and students at the chair of Materials Science, we were able to advance our knowledge and technology to eventually found the spin-off company CrystAl-N GmbH in 2010.
I substantially contributed to the successful application for funding through the German EXIST-Forschungstransfer (research transfer) programs to prepare a spin-off company. As a founding partner my role in the company was the characterization of the crystals and the involvement of students in scientific aspects of the technology. Therefore I continued by Work and employment at the University of Erlangen. Finally, the successful appointment as a professor at the Technische Universität Berlin in 2011 ended my direct work for the company, and after initial success the company went out of business in 2018. At the IKZ my activities are still in the field of applied research, but dealing with pre-industrial research and development.
The company Firma CrystAl-N GmbH
The company CrystAl-N GmbH was a spin-off to prepare the commercial use of our technology for the production of AlN crystals and substrates. The preparation to found the spin-off was funded by the "Exist Research Transfer" program of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology. In 2009, we successfully participated in the Northern Bavaria network's business plan competition, winning of the first and second rounds and being finalist of the third round! With our business idea, we also became a finalist in the 2010 Bavarian Founder Prize and winner of the Middle Franconian Founder Prize.
The founding persons and the University of Erlangen were invested right from the start, followed later by other personal investors, HighTech Gründerfonds and BayernKapital SeedFonds Bayern. The company produced AlN crystals on SiC seeds and commercially sold AlN substrates. In 2013, the company moved from the Erlangen-Tennenlohe start-up centre to the "Uferstadt" technology park in Fürth. Unfortunately, no industrial company was ultimately interested to transfer the technology.