Which aspects about the field of electrical engineering and information technology are the most exciting for you?
The field of electrical engineering is constantly changing and developing – hence it is an area in which I will be able to tackle and develop new challenges until my retirement. After studying electrical engineering, the whole professional spectrum is open to you: ranging from pure theory, for example teaching at the university or purely scientific activities in the lower technology readiness level at universities and research institutions, to practice-oriented work in the industry. Here at Fraunhofer IAF, you have the opportunity to combine everything in one working environment: Scientific fundamental research and development of, for instance, circuits, but also of complete demonstrators for the industry, as well as teaching. Thanks to the close link of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft to the universities, everything is possible here.
In 2008, you received the Amelia Earhart Fellowship Award for your PhD thesis. The pilot and women’s rights activist Amelia Earhart crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1929 as the first woman in solo flight. Like Earhart, your work has made you a pioneer in aerospace performance and efficiency. What did you investigate in your doctoral thesis?
Within the scope of my doctoral thesis at Fraunhofer IAF, I designed power amplifier circuits based on the gallium nitride (GaN) technology, which at the time was still quite a new field of research. The main task in doing so was the design of innovative circuit technologies to optimize the efficiency rate of GaN-based high power amplifiers. Amplifiers have a very high use of energy, while at the same time the primary energy of independent systems is limited. Therefore, the development of highly efficient power amplifiers for independent communications and radar systems, also used in aerospace applications, is indispensable in order to save additional cooling energy. The major challenge of the power amplifier circuit design is not only in the optimization of the circuit’s efficiency, but in the best possible compromise between the achievable output power and the highest possible efficiency over large frequency bandwidths with moderate compression.
For your research you also went to the US. How do the two research cultures differ?
During my studies, I spent half a year working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Boulder, Colorado. My colleagues were very relaxed and the work atmosphere was great. Yet, the approach to research topics is, in contrast to the one prevailing in Germany, primarily based on the »principle of trial and error«. One of my tasks was to set up a »power box« for the electricity supply of a radiometer system, which included the design and the fitting of circuit boards as well as the wiring of hundreds of cables. A circuit diagram for this did not exist, which would arguably be unthinkable at a German institute. In general, little to no documentation existed; the expertise and partial knowledge, respectively, was in the heads of single staff members. However, despite my temporary concerns we managed to complete and mount the system just in time on a P-3 aircraft of the Navy. Its task was is to conduct successful measurements of soil moisture above Arizona and New Mexico. With regard to my colleagues, I certainly fulfilled the typical German stereotypes: »exact«, »organized« and »punctual«.
How did you continue after your PhD?
After completing my doctorate, I started with project work and reporting and then went on to the fields of project acquisition, project leadership and project management in general. Nowadays I manage the microelectronics department at Fraunhofer IAF.