Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Tim Grotjohn had been studying the manufacture of diamonds at Michigan State University since the late 1980s. In the summer of 2019, he and MSU Foundation / Spartan Innovations’ Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) Keith Evans, a semiconductor materials commercialization expert, founded Great Lakes Crystal Technologies (GLCT) to become the leading provider of semiconductor-grade diamond materials for x-ray detectors, x-ray optics, next-generation electronics, and quantum technologies.
Diamond as a semiconductor material has exceptional properties: it has better thermal conductivity than all other semiconductors and is extremely resistant to high-energy radiation. It is also incredibly effective in quantum technology. Diamonds with specific defects called “nitrogen-vacancy” (NV) defects—in which a nitrogen atom and an empty space sit in the crystal where two carbon atoms should be—can be used in quantum computing and quantum sensing.
But high-quality diamond is very hard to grow, so diamond-based technology hasn’t advanced as quickly as technology based on more accessible materials like silicon. And advanced quantum research would be able to move more quickly with better access to diamond—there are few manufacturers of synthetic diamond for advanced scientific applications in the United States.
“We have 33 years of diamond work under our belts, so we’re known for building the machines and developing the processes for growing high-quality diamond,” said co-founder and technical adviser Grotjohn. “That’s kind of our expertise, and now we’re starting to apply that expertise to the field of quantum technology.”
Great Lakes Crystal recently closed on $540K in seed financing to support the buildup of a semiconductor-grade diamond pilot manufacturing line in an MSU Foundation-managed incubator center just off of the MSU campus in East Lansing, Michigan. They’ve also hired two leading PhD-level diamond scientists who are former students of Grotjohn: Chief Scientist Paul Quayle and Production Director Ramon Diaz.
The vision of Great Lakes Crystal Technologies “is of a future in which advanced crystalline diamond materials bring about broad-based benefits in a multitude of applications throughout the world.” The company is currently funded in the quantum technology space by both the US Air Force and the US Army to develop and supply quantum grade diamond materials, and by the Duality program.
GLCT’s product roadmap includes quantum-grade diamond materials which are needed to support advanced quantum technology applications including quantum sensors and quantum communications.
“The Duality program is proving to be intense and simply incredible,” said Evans, Great Lakes co-founder, president, and CEO. “We have been exposed to world-class advisors from the University of Chicago and their affiliate organizations, and are already growing our network in important ways. We’re excited over what we’ve achieved thus far and ready for our next chapter.”
Over the next few years, GLCT hopes to build a fully-integrated semiconductor-grade diamond manufacturing facility in the Midwest, while maintaining a strong R&D presence in the MSU incubator center and continuing to pursue federal R&D grants to demonstrate and develop diamond enabled applications for the commercial, homeland security, and defense sectors.