Calvin H. Carter, Jr
$131 million FY08
TSC MEMBER INSTITUTION(S):
North Carolina State University
Department of Defense
ABOUT THE COMPANY:
Cree, Inc. is a market-leading innovator and manufacturer of semiconductors that enhance the value of LED solid-state lighting, power and communications products by significantly increasing their energy performance. Cree customers range from innovative lighting fixtures makers to defense-related federal agencies.
UNIVERSITY-BASED RESEARCH CONNECTION:
The scientific work that led to the founding of Cree, Inc. began in the early 1980s at North Carolina State University (NCSU), where brothers Eric Hunter and Neal Hunter, along with Calvin Carter, began investigating the physical and electronic properties of silicon carbide (SiC), a rare, naturally occurring material. Their first work was funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), which hoped to develop processes for the production of microwave transistors from SiC that would supply the basis for higher power electronic systems for military aircraft.
The physical characteristics of silicon carbide led researchers to believe that the material possessed significant advantages over the semiconductor materials being used at the time, such as silicon. It was thought that silicon carbide-based devices would be able to operate at much higher temperatures, much higher power and voltage levels, and much higher frequencies than those made from silicon. It was also believed that blue light emitting LEDs could be produced from silicon carbide. The problem with silicon carbide is that it was difficult to work with — it is extremely hard, which makes it difficult to cut into wafers and etch with circuits; its crystals have to be grown at temperatures above 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit; and the crystals have to be grown carefully because silicon carbide can crystallize in more than 100 atomic arrangements, many of which make the end product unusable.
The NCSU team found ways around many of these barriers; it developed proprietary processes for growing bulk SiC in single crystalline form, for applying SiC films, and for dry etching the material. In July 1987 the core group of scientists left NCSU and formed Cree Research, Inc. in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.
ROLE OF FEDERAL RESEARCH FUNDING:
The research that led to CREE was supported in part by the Department of Defense Office of Naval Research.
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