FROM A PhD TO A START-UP : The beauty of surface characterization

The PhD journey is a long bittersweet adventure. The explosive moments with exciting discoveries are like sweet candies in a child’s hand after his good mood has been wrecked over and over by exhaustive trials and failures. As I finished my thesis, I came to the realization that I should stand up straight and act like a professional. After all, the PhD shapes our souls to embark on our next amusing explorations, and the ‘what-comes-next’ question teases us with frequency towards the end of the thesis.

In my case, creating a start-up was always my answer! Actually, I started “OF Fabrication” while I was doing my PhD. The idea popped up naively,I have to admit, but it grew quite fast. To explain how it came about, I would say that since my interest in surface chemistry emerged a while ago, I had the opportunity over the years to observe mostly the drawbacks of certain equipment I had to work with to get my research done. As I used it on a daily basis, these flaws often annoyed me. So one day I shifted my thinking from “why don’t they ameliorate X in the measurement interface, or why is the output software so buggy?” to “ why don’t I do this? I could design an overall better device and enhance the experience of the customers through this technique.” That day the idea of “OF Fabrication” was stamped on my joyful face, and the start-up was born.

Basically, the equipment we are developing deals with the production and characterization of thin films, which can range from nanometers to micrometers in thickness. That means it can measure, for example, layers that are imperceptible to the naked eye. Isn’t that cool? But why it is important? Because certain products require homogeneous coatings of specific sizes in order to best perform in a cost- effective manner. Solar cells, screens and windows are just a few examples. Additionally, our equipment is able to measure a very neat feature of liquids: surface tension. Spherical water droplets can be seen on waxy leaves and water striders are able to skate on the surface of a lake without sinking, even though they are denser than water. Both facts are related to this property in which the liquid, in this case water, has the elastic tendency to achieve the least surface area possible. Surface science is indeed fascinating, isn’t it?

Doing a PhD and creating a business is a serious affair, but no matter how challenging it is to handle both, I would definitely do it all over again. I am Oona Freundenthal, a former PhD student from the University of Lorraine and the founder of “OF Fabrication”. Visit my website for more info on my business: http://www.

Text by Fernanda Haffner

Illustration by Luis Rubio