Gurnee diamond maker competes for chance to make glass for U.S. Army laser weapons

A Gurnee manufacturer specializing in lab-grown diamonds is vying for a chance to work for the U.S. Army to build better laser weapons and other futuristic military technology.

AKHAN Semiconductor was named Monday as one of 125 companies to advance past the first round of a U.S. Army-sponsored competition called the Expeditionary Technology Search. It seeks to engage commercial companies that wouldn't normally participate in defense work.

A representative from the U.S. Army did not immediately return requests to comment on why AKHAN was selected.

AKHAN's entry in the competition is its new patented material called Miraj Diamond, which is designed to make the glass stronger, harder and allows the material to dissipate heat, company officials said.

Miraj Diamond is made by spreading microscopic diamonds along a glass surface a few nanometers apart. The glass is placed in a machine that pumps in methane and other gases and applies heat, making the diamonds grow in all directions until they coat the surface.

The company plans to debut Miraj Diamond next year in smartphone screens. Carl Shurboff, AKHAN's president and COO, said it will make the screen six times stronger, 10 times harder and run more than 800 times cooler than other glass.

Company officials entered Miraj Diamond into the Army's competition because they believe the material's heat dissipation will work well in directed energy systems - or, as they are also known, laser weapons.

Unlike the laser cannons sci-fi fans might be familiar with, modern laser weapons are designed to focus a lot of energy on a target to heat it up, said Ernie Schirmann, an AKHAN senior engineer.

"You could use it to lock on to a sensitive component of an aircraft, like a guidance system, to disable it," Schirmann said. "Or some are purely destructive, like burning a hole in a target."

A big challenge is such systems become so hot they melt, he said. AKHAN engineers hope using Miraj Diamond-coated components will prevent similar meltdowns.

Shurboff said the company is also looking into ways to coat military equipment or vehicles in Miraj Diamond so they can better dissipate heat from enemy lasers.

AKHAN opened in Gurnee in November 2015. It has 14 employees, mostly engineers, physicists and administrators. Adam Khan, the company's founder, CEO and namesake, said more employees will be added this fall when construction on a Miraj Diamond production line and clean room are completed.

"Diamond is interesting in that it isn't as mature as silicon or some of the other materials on the market," Khan said. "We're really pioneering the commercialization of it and will be dictating how it gets massively scaled."

Khan and members of the team will make a presentation to Army officials for the next phase of the competition Tuesday in Chicago. The winner could receive up to $331,000 in prize money and pen a contract with the Army.

  Adam Khan, founder, chairman and CEO, left, and Carl Shurboff, president and COO of AKHAN Semiconductors of Gurnee, discuss the new material they've created called Miraj Diamond, which they entered in a U.S. Army competition. Mark Welsh/
  Adam Khan, founder, chairman and CEO, left, with Carl Shurboff, president and COO of AKHAN Semiconductors of Gurnee, walk in front of a clean room, where diamonds will be grown. The room is part of a facility that is under construction and expected to be completed this fall. Mark Welsh/
  The image of Carl Shurboff, president and COO of AKHAN Semiconductors, is reflected off a prototype of the company's Miraj Diamond glass. Mark Welsh/
  AKHAN Semiconductors' Gurnee global headquarters is at 940 Lakeside Drive in Gurnee. Mark Welsh/
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.