Research | PDI | 05-04-2023

Inside the great laboratory for molecular beam epitaxy

The concept was very clear: concise instructions, maximum freedom in the implementation, a single day of shooting with a professional film crew “next week,” followed by speedy post-production.

Clip from the video "Semiconductor Research at PDI"

And that is exactly what I liked about the project: being thrown into the deep end of a trade I knew nothing about before. Because it’s precisely what I had expected when I got into science and what I keep experiencing, over and over, on the path to getting my PhD. So, here is a clip about the Institute, made in celebration of the Forschungsverbund’s 30 years of existence. After only a few months at the Institute, I dove into that which probably any doctoral student does best: research. What was the aim of the clips; what was the format; who were the film crew?

I watched the short films for last year’s Science Show made by the same cameraman, Giovanni Dominice. They were excellent. I began to see the Institute with new eyes. No longer as a scientist, sitting at his equipment and becoming an expert, but rather as a mediator with an outside perspective. What is the story of “my” institute? What does it look like through the camera lens? Can an outsider even understand it at all?

I found old PDI science communication projects and explanatory animations, from times gone by, in drawers and on hard drives. I looked for suitable shooting locations at the Institute – and even managed to convince the technologists to allow the camera into the highly sterile cleanroom. It promised brilliant pictures of a world usually hidden from the public.

We Think Further

Of course, I planned to do shooting in the great laboratory for molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) because here lies the focus of my work, in the targeted production and study of nanomaterials. In this lab, you experience a fascinating discrepancy between the precision of the nanomaterials produced, grown with atomic layer accuracy, and the Jules Vernean appearance of the apparatuses needed for this – steel colossuses weighing tonnes, inside which the obligatory extreme vacuum prevails and the molecular beams are adjusted to utmost precision. The sight of the machines, the sound of the pumps and the complexity of the controls is always breathtaking. (It is no coincidence that our invitation to the 2022 Long Night of Science showed a section of such an epitaxy facility with all its pipes, wirings, hatches and viewing portholes – with a big heading “WTF?!” – and in small print the full wording “We Think Further”).

Two-way communication with non-experts

I wanted to convey the impressive interplay between all the different techniques, skills, approaches and people. With guaranteed access to the labs, a set of animations and some ideas, a script finally came together for our clip about the diversity of research. An introduction explains the necessity for semiconductor materials research and presents PDI as an important player in its field of research. This is followed by an insight into our institute’s core growth technology: the MBE facility where our semiconductors are produced. Following this is a quick run at a dizzying pace through a selection of analytical methods. Many of the pictures for the film emerged entirely spontaneously and organically while collaborating with the excellent team. Indeed, the shoot was an occasion where something that is very important to us at the Institute took place: a two-way communication with interested non-experts.

Text: Moritz Hansemann

The article was published in Verbundjournal 119 | 2022 with the focus on "30 years of FVB."

Video / Science Clip