SM: Tell me where your journey begins. Where are you from and how did you end up at the University of Toledo?
XD: I was born in Nanchang, China in 1963. I grew up there and went to college at the University of Science and Technology of China. In China we have a nationwide college entrance exam that you must take in order to attend university. I happened to be lucky enough to be ranked first out of 100,000 students in my province, which allowed me to get into a prestigious college.
I studied physics there, and then I came to the United States and enrolled at the University of Chicago in their physics program. That was 1985. I pursued a PhD in amorphous silicon and photovoltaics. I have been working in photovoltaic sciences for 23 years.
Upon graduation in 1990 from the University of Chicago, most of my classmates went on to do postdocs. I went to a small business and technology company to build photovoltaic production lines.
SM: What company did you do that for?
XD: Energy Convergent Devices, which at the time was in Troy, Michigan. I joined the company to help them with their amorphous silicon production lines. Soon I was in charge of the technical team there and worked to optimize all of the processes of the advanced production lines. That was a lot of fun.
I joined ECD in 1990. In 1996 I moved to the University of Toledo to become an assistant professor. Many of my colleges felt I was nuts because I gave up a senior career at the company to become a junior professor. A few years later I went through the ranks to become a full professor. In 2002 my wife and I started this company.
SM: What is the genesis of the company? Was it based on research you were doing in your lab at Toledo?
XD: Yes. When I went to the university we developed a set of technologies such as how to build efficient solar cells, how to increase the production rate, and how to reduce the cost of equipment. Having been involved with production lines before, I had a good understanding as to what was needed in the industry to help it be more cost-effective. That is the perspective that many professors do not have.
SM: You were more familiar with the commercialization of technology because of your industry background.
XD: Exactly. In the university environment there are very few professors with such experience. Those who do have experience are from Bell Labs or other large corporate research institutions. There were very few who had startup or small technology company experience. The difference is that those who have worked at a small technology company have learned how to survive.
SM: That is certainly a different field of experience.
XD: Very different. Everything is based on small, limited budgets yet you have to build a great team and the best products on the market. The skills I gained from ECD were very useful to me at the university.