Structures for scientific top performances – Fraunhofer IAF promotes its executive staff

Convincing technologies, modern materials, promising fields of application – with excellent research and recognized expertise, Fraunhofer IAF has found its place in this terrain. Recording an increase from 70 up to 173 projects per year, Fraunhofer IAF has continuously been facing challenges in the past ten years pursuing the aim to develop innovations profitable for both society and economy. With an extended organizational structure and new responsibilities, we want to correspond to the constantly growing scientific and financial value of the institute.

Through the coexistence and cooperation of departments and business units, the extended matrix structure opens up new responsibilities which help to optimize our research infrastructure and to further intensify our contacts to business and industry representatives. The departments embrace the core competencies of Fraunhofer IAF: as essential interfaces to partners and customers, the business units represent the projects and services of Fraunhofer IAF. Supported by the new organizational and task structure, we aim to build new bridges to economy and society, in order to open up ever new fields of application for our technologies.

Michael Schlechtweg, Head of Business Unit »High Frequency Electronics«, has been working at Fraunhofer IAF since 1989. His focus of research is the design of circuits and amplifiers.

Mr. Schlechtweg, you have been working in the »High Frequency Electronics« unit at Fraunhofer IAF for 26 years now. What has changed since then?

Essentially, we are still dealing with similar high frequency technologies, but the frequencies, performance and systems capabilities of our components have considerably improved over time and have also become more stable. Initially, we only produced the components at the institute, then integrated chips followed, in 1992 we had the first module – and today we are approaching systems solutions, which become increasingly complex.

What kind of basic technologies does the business unit contribute to and where is it headed?

Our semiconductor technology is and remains the basis for high frequency transistors. And we will of course continue to focus on the further development of these strengths, for example by opening up to higher frequency ranges. But we are also confronted with a paradigm shift: pushing our technology forward won’t be the sole purpose anymore. Instead we will have to incorporate our components into the mosaic of othertechnologies. Besides our core competences, the focus will also be placed on signal processing electronics or software.

The shift from single to multi-channel systems in order to realize real-time and 3D capabilities will also be of particular importance.

Rüdiger Quay studied physics and economic and made his PhD and habilitation in the area of electrical engineering. He has been working at Fraunhofer IAF since 2001 and has now taken over the business unit »Power Electronics«

Where do you see the focal points of the business area »Power Electronics«?

The main focus certainly lies on the power generation for the high frequency range from 1 MHz to at least 100 GHz. But the fast and efficient converting of energy is also becoming more and more important.

The current keywords in this field are: kilowatt-transistors, integrated circuits up to at least 100 GHz, but also new topics such as control engineering – and the associated system supply for and with our partners.

What are the challenges for the future?

In general, it will increasingly be about higher frequencies, e. g. 3 to 6 GHz, or rather about high performance at high frequencies. Today we reach up to about 100 GHz, in the future it should be 300 GHz because we need a lot of power to steadily transfer data over long distances at high frequencies. In practical terms, this means additional radio links, for instance, in order to close the gaps in broadband internet in rural areas. But this also means that radar technologies can see farther or that drones can fly higher.

The research of Robert Rehm focuses on Type-II InAs/GaSb superlattices. Since 1996, he has been at the institute and is now Head of Business Unit »Photodetectors«.

Simply speaking, what does the unit »Photodetectors« do?

We are developing high-performance single component or line detectors as well as two dimensional detector matrices for the infrared and ultraviolet spectral ranges. These detectors are relevant for entirely different areas of application. These include security applications such as warning sensors for airplanes or the use for gas and environmental measurements such as the detection of methane in the atmosphere. In the future, we would like to expand our activities along the value chain in different areas in order to eventually make these technologies  available to medium-sized companies.

Where have your technologies been employed already?

Our bispectral infrared detectors, which we have been developing in cooperation with Airbus Defense & Space and AIM for ten years, serve as a great example for this. These infrared detectors are used for military warning systems for airplanes which can detect approaching missiles, or rather their exhaust plumes, consisting of CO2. Over the last decade, we have succeeded in developing the most effective technology available today in this area. But, naturally, we want to go farther.

Ralf Ostendorf has been at the institute since 2007 and is working on the development and optimization of quantum cascade lasers.

Mr. Ostendorf, you are taking over the business unit »Semiconductor Lasers«. What is it exactly that characterizes the unit?

We focus on the development of customer-specific laser solutions in the mid-infrared range, spectrally tunable semiconductor disc lasers, and quantum cascade lasers (QCLs) as well as on the continual improvement of LED systems. During the last couple of years we have made great progress in the application of our laser technologies. We have moved from fundamental physics regarding chip-level infrared semiconductor lasers to a system approach and increasingly offer modules and laser systems today. In the future, the focus will be placed on holistic system solutions in which both infrared lasers and LEDs can be integrated.

What appeals to you personally about the position as head of business unit?

What appeals to me is the thematic diversity and opportunity to work more in the broader scientific spectrum instead of engaging with just one subject. I am looking forward to familiarizing myself with new topics in order to, virtually from a bird’s eye perspective, recognize new connections and explore novel solutions.

Christoph Nebel came 2008 at Fraunhofer IAF, as head of the department and business unit »Semiconductor Sensors«. His research focuses on diamond-based applications.

Mr. Nebel, what has happened since 2008 in the area of diamond?

In the beginning, the focus was entirely placed on polycrystalline or nanocrystalline diamond layers. About three and a half years ago, we then started our monocrystalline diamond activity; a promising material for optical and electronical applications. We are also taking a closer look at novel materials such as aluminum scandium nitride and graphene.

Graphene is a promising metal substitute and can also be applied in the field of energy storages. So far, we are still at the very beginning of this research and we will later see how these materials are received on the market. Diamond, on the other hand, has by now shown its full potential. Here, the next challenge will be to develop monocrystalline diamond wafers and components.

Apart from jewel stones, how will we benefit from diamond in the future?

Since 2010, the focus has increasingly been placed on the exploration of the potential of diamonds regarding quantum physics. These efforts have been so successful that areas of application such as quantum cryptography, quantum computing or magnetometry advance within reach. For instance, we are currently working on a sensor system for magnetometric measuring devices. Quantum magnetometry is supposed to enable extremely high spatial resolutions. This way the measuring of a single electron or nuclear spin can be achieved.