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The wafer

Photo by: Bridget Broihahn

Dave Ahmari and Quesnell Hartmann, co-founders of II-VI Epiworks, believe that everything is becoming connected, or what is called the "internet of things." This internetworking of devices, vehicles, and even buildings that are embedded with electronics, software and sensors is the basis of their company. They develop wafers that can broken down into about 20,000 chips for smart and wireless technology. Plus, the wafers are customized for consumers based on their individual needs.

"Everything from your home thermostat, camera, garage door, and anything else with a sensor wireless chip is affected," Ahmari said from their Champaign location.

EpiWorks was founded in 1997 when Ahmari and Hartmann were graduate students at the University of Illinois.

"We worked on government projects. That was the basis of the company," Hartmann said.

They soon found that their research was well ahead of other companies.

Since that time, they have become leaders in the compound semiconductor epitaxial wafers industry. Recently, the company became the II-VI Epiworks Division of II-VI Incorporated, a company co-founded by another UI engineering doctoral graduate, Carl J. Johnson. II-VI

EpiWorks' developing and manufacturing is like no other in the industry, as well. The company's products provide these applications' additional performance, such as greater bandwidth, higher power efficiency and better reliability, which is what consumers crave in today's fast-paced and growing technological world.

They not only develop the epitaxial semiconductor wafers, but they manufacture them in the same facility as well. The term epitaxial means the wafer has hundreds of layers of crystalline overlayers on a substrate. It's kind of like a technological layer cake. The wafers range in size from 2 to 6 inches. The possibilities are endless, too.

"We have the capability and materials that can be reconfigured. There are so many variables. We customize the wafer for endless possibilities," Hartmann said.

"We're always asking how we can do this better," Ahmari said.

Ahmari said they also concentrate on research and development because they aim to keep their clients a generation ahead in the technological world.

The state-of-the-art expansion includes wafer development for both the RF and optoelectronics industries. RF means radio frequency, and optoelectronics refers to the branch of technology concerned with the combined use of electronics and light.

It's pretty exciting, too, because the aggressive expansion will create 80 new jobs over the next two years for the Champaign area.

The expansion also includes a 25,000-square-foot facility, a class 1000 cleanroom, and a materials test and characterization suite and laboratory. All in all, that means they will have quadrupled their capacity by spring 2017, and will be the leader in global compound semiconductor industry. For more information go to

The Roman numerals "II-VI" refers to column II and column VI of the Periodic Table of Elements in chemistry. By chemically combining elements from these columns, II-VI produced the infrared optical crystalline compounds: Cadmium Telluride (CdTe), Zinc Selenide (ZnSe), Zinc Sulfide (ZnS) and Zinc Sulfide MultiSpectral (ZnS MS). These compounds and others created from column II and column VI elements are commonly referred to as "II-VI Materials."