Today, we meet Dr Mike Banach, Technical Director at FlexEnable.
1. Was science and engineering always your chosen career path?
My undergraduate degree was in Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Cincinnati (UC). UC had a mandated internship program built into the engineering degree which meant I had a job requiring the practical application of engineering principles within a year of starting the degree. I fell in love with the problem-solving process and expanded on that during my doctorate degree at the University of Cambridge.
2. How did you first become interested in organic electronics?
During my undergraduate internships I was working on improving organic layers in optoelectronic communication devices. I liked the work and my mentor at the time encouraged me to look globally for the best place to continue studying in the field. That search took me to Cambridge where I took a PhD at the Cavendish Laboratory, working with Professor Richard Friend and Professor Henning Sirringhaus (also FlexEnable’s Chief Scientist). I have remained in this field ever since.
3. What is it about organic electronics that has kept you in the industry for the past two decades?
I have been working with the same class of materials for roughly 20 years now, but the complexity of doing paradigm-changing industrial research and market development has meant my day-to-day role has changed a lot over the years. When I started working in Organic Electronics two decades ago, my challenge was very much about getting a single OTFT device to work. Today, it has become the commercial journey of getting those devices into world-beating products and has had more twists and turns then I ever could have predicted. What is most exciting for me is that I really think the best is yet to come.
4. What have been the most significant breakthroughs you have seen during your career?
For many years, different organic transistor materials have been developed but the resulting organic transistors were either too slow, too hard to process, or unreliable compared to the silicon-based transistors they were looking to replace. Therefore, the chemistry that underlies our FlexiOM™ S500 material offering stands out as the biggest scientific breakthrough. I think it is the first offering that can exploit all benefits of organic electronics without any drawbacks over the silicon transistors that it replaces.
With that said I am personally very proud of the pioneering work we did at FlexEnable in making the first liquid crystal displays from organic electronics. I think it is a very clever way of creating radically new product form factors whilst leveraging the infrastructure of an existing industry.
5. What other applications there are for organic semiconductors materials beyond displays and sensors?
Organic materials are at their best when the form factor is most demanding. It strikes me that the most demanding form factors will emerge as electronics gets more integrated into the human body. I am excited about what organic electronics can do in bioelectronics and biomedical devices.
6. How do you determine the next useful application for flexible/organic electronics?
Our short-term application roadmap is heavily influenced by our customer interactions. It takes a lot of persistence, but getting demonstrations of our technology in front of people with sector-specific application awareness has led to some of our most fruitful projects. For longer term applications, we keep well-connected to the academic community and the conference scene. All of this has obviously been more complicated over the last few years, but I am hopeful it will get easier soon.
7. What advice would you give to a student of a STEM subject who wanted to pursue a career in electronics and, more specifically, organic electronics?
Problem solving is fun. I know you will encounter problems in any career and early experiences will be rich in learning opportunites for any avenue you pursue. However, pursuing a career in STEM is unique in that it ensures your whole career will be spent solving the problems you find the most worthwhile.