Young man standing in front of a wafer measuring station.
© Fraunhofer IAF
Michael Basler researches monolithically integrated GaN voltage converters.

“Virtual conferences are very important for knowledge sharing at the moment.”

In this interview, Michael Basler talks about his research in power electronics, his passion for teaching, and the currently prevalent virtual conferences.

In conversation with Michael Basler

Why and how did you join Fraunhofer IAF?

When I first heard of Fraunhofer IAF I was immediately struck by the fact that they manufacture their own semiconductors. Without hesitation, I started my master’s thesis at Fraunhofer IAF in 2018 and afterwards I was offered the opportunity to continue my work in form of a dissertation. The institute offers a great infrastructure with a direct link to the clean room and device manufacturing. This allows for the development of new concepts and individual components - which of course offers many possibilities for my research. I, for my part, start with the design of components and circuits. My colleagues then process them, after which I characterize them. Then I continue to work on the assembly technology, and finally I move on to the application, i.e. the commissioning of a finished demonstrator. This kind of research infrastructure, which covers the entire semiconductor value chain, is very rare at other research institutes.

 

What are you currently researching?

Together with my colleagues, I am researching gallium nitride-on-silicon (GaN-on-Si) technology for use as power semiconductors in energy-efficient DC-DC converters. Due to its lateral structure, the semiconductor material gallium nitride allows the integration of additional components to the power switch on a single chip. A voltage converter consists of power switch, drive and control, and protection circuits. In this context, I am investigating a full or complete integration in this technology to a so-called GaN Power System-on-Chip (Power SoC) for the low voltage class, for example in battery applications. The battery not only includes the battery itself, but also power electronics in the form of a low-voltage converter that adapts the output voltage of the battery to the corresponding load.

For this purpose, I develop and optimize components and circuits. From this full integration, we hope to achieve a higher power and functional density with simultaneously low costs compared to discretely designed systems. Such forms of high integration are primarily driven by an increased demand for efficient and compact systems in information technology, mobile and battery-powered applications, which we are also increasingly noticing in our own behavior.

 

What fascinates you about power electronics?

The exciting thing for me, and I always say this when I teach, is the extreme range of power electronics from milliwatts to megawatts. In some cases, I work with up to 100 amps and 1000 volts. I am also interested in measurement and safety technology, which plays a major role. With such large currents and voltages, there is always a certain thrill, because if something goes wrong, the components explode and are destroyed. Of course, that has to be avoided and makes power electronics so exciting for me.

Young man working at a wafer measuring station.
© Fraunhofer IAF
Michael Basler researches monolithically integrated GaN voltage converters.

You teach at the Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University (DHBW) and are also a tutor at the University of Freiburg. What do you particularly enjoy about working with students?

I have always enjoyed teaching others I like to pass on my knowledge and that’s why I started teaching the Power Electronics lecture to bachelor students at the Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University. I am now in my second year of teaching, which of course was a special year due to Corona. Despite the circumstances, the feedback has been consistently positive. I hope that I was able to get some students excited about power electronics in spite of teaching virtually.

I am also part of a team of tutors for bachelor students at the electronics lab of the Institute of Microsystems Engineering IMTEK at the University of Freiburg for the second time this year. It is a rather basic internship where I can teach the students a lot. I really enjoy working with the students, especially helping and guiding them through the troubleshooting of built circuits. The students feel accomplished after they prove the function of the circuit by tips or hints and are very grateful for the support.

 

You recently attended a virtual conference. What do you think of the digital alternatives compared to traditional events?

I recently gave a poster talk at the leading international conference on power electronic devices and integrated circuits. The symposium was held entirely digitally. While it was comparable to a physical event in many ways, it was defiantly not the same as actually being there. The exchange is simply different. One cannot network as casually between sessions and talk casually with each other. In that respect, it is a bit limiting. But still, I think it's a good alternative. Virtual conferences are very important for knowledge exchange right now. I will continue to participate in digital events and am already planning my next conference paper for 2021.

 

What do you like best about Freiburg?

Some people have already said that, but I see it the same way: The proximity to the Black Forest is just great. I’m originally from the Black Forest - you can hear that in my dialect *laughs - and I just feel at home here. It’s the perfect mix: on the one hand, you have a lot of water with the lakes, such as Schluchsee or Titisee, and on the other hand, of course, the mountains when you go skiing in the winter. That simply offers you an enormous amount of possibilities.

 

What three words would you use to describe the IAF?

“Semiconductor value chain”, “power electronics innovations” and “research enthusiasm”

 

Michael Basler completed his Bachelor of Engineering in Electrical Engineering and Information Technology at the HTWG Konstanz and subsequently earned his Master of Science in Power and Microelectronics at the Robert Bosch Center for Power Electronics at Reutlingen University. Since 2018, he has been at Fraunhofer IAF and, in addition to his research, holds the lecture “Power Electronics” at the Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University (DHBW) and is involved as a tutor for Bachelor students at the University of Freiburg.

Further employees of Fraunhofer IAF in conversation

 

"The idea of building a computer from the tiniest particles has inspired me."

Kathrin König, PhD student quantum computing

 

"We are always there for our employees to offer advice and support."

Lena Breuer, Human Resources

 

 

"It's a real breakthrough for semiconductor technology."

Dr. Stefano Leone, Group leader epitaxy

 

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