Growing semiconductor research capacity and workforce

Growing semiconductor research capacity and workforce

The College of Engineering at Oregon State University has been central to the semiconductor industry ever since the Silicon Forest first took root, back in the 1970s.

Last spring, Oregon State was selected to lead a Regional Innovation Engine for the Pacific Northwest’s semiconductor ecosystem, with $1 million in funding from the National Science Foundation. The RIE has already conducted two successful workshops with industry and academic partners — the first in September, in Hillsboro, and the second in December, in Boise. Plans are underway for a third workshop and the RIE’s first annual meeting.

In the fall, the college further extended its leadership role in this vital industry, with awards for three high-profile, federally funded initiatives aimed at innovations to grow the semiconductor workforce in Oregon and throughout the region.

  • Oregon State was selected to lead a federally designated Tech Hub focused on developing microfluidic technology for semiconductors, materials, and biotechnology, with eligibility to apply for future awards of $40 million to $70 million.
  • The National Science Foundation selected Oregon State to spearhead a $2 million effort exploring ways to help electrical components better withstand extreme operating conditions.
  • The university was named a partner institution for the $15.3 million California-Pacific Northwest AI hardware hub, which aims to accelerate new semiconductor technologies.

Leading teams at Oregon State for all three projects as principal investigator is Tom Weller, the Michael and Judith Gaulke Chair in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

“These awards represent a high level of confidence in Oregon State’s leadership and expertise in the semiconductor arena, as well as a significant financial investment by the federal government,” Weller said. “We expect that investment will yield some impressive returns — not just in developing better technology, but in creating jobs for Oregon, expanding the technology sector in the Northwest, and strengthening the economy of the United States.”

Tom Weller with student

Tom Weller talks circuits with a student.

Microfluidics Tech Hub

In October, the White House announced the selection of Oregon State to lead a federally designated Tech Hub focusing on microfluidic technology for semiconductors, with the University of Oregon and Oregon Health & Science University as key higher education partners. Oregon State is the only university nationwide to lead two Tech Hubs, with a second focusing on mass timber design and manufacturing.

The Corvallis Microfluidics Tech Hub, or CorMic, aims to establish global leadership in the development, scaling, and commercialization of microfluidics technology. Microfluidics refers to precisely controlling small volumes of liquid. HP Inc., a leading microfluidics technology company with a Corvallis manufacturing facility, is a key partner.

“Microfluidics is an enabling technology platform for key industry sectors, including semiconductors, biotechnology, and chemical manufacturing,” said Weller, who is principal investigator for the CorMic project. “For example, microfluidics-based cooling is the way forward for increasing semiconductor performance and massively reducing energy expenditures, which will have a national impact on fossil fuel pollution.”

Creating New Jobs

Weller conservatively estimates the project could ultimately create 1,500 or more high-paying jobs in Corvallis.

“CorMic brings together our region’s expertise, critical assets, and partnerships to enable innovation, accelerate technology development, and reduce barriers to market adoption for this technology with critical national security implications, establishing Corvallis as a self-sustaining, globally competitive microfluidics Tech Hub within the next decade,” he said.

Designation as a Tech Hub will allow the Oregon State-led projects to apply for awards between $40 million and $70 million. Five to 10 Tech Hubs are expected to receive those grants, which will total nearly $500 million.

"The CorMic Tech Hub is an incredible opportunity to leverage Corvallis and Oregon State University’s strengths – our technical expertise, innovation, and talent pipeline – to expand and enhance microfluidics applications in semiconductors, biotech, and more."

“The CorMic Tech Hub is an incredible opportunity to leverage Corvallis and Oregon State University’s strengths – our technical expertise, innovation, and talent pipeline – to expand and enhance microfluidics applications in semiconductors, biotech, and more,” said Scott Ashford, Kearney Dean of Engineering. “It builds on the already strong partnerships Oregon State has with CorMic’s key contributors.”

In addition to the Tech Hub designation, the microfluidics group received a $50,000 grant from the Department of Commerce to further develop the project. Business Oregon also provided a $50,000 local match.

What is Cormic?

The CorMic Tech Hub seeks to accelerate the commercialization of microfluidics technology for applications ranging from semiconductor cooling to biotechnology to the development of pharmaceuticals and advanced materials.

Fuse Project

Weller will lead another team in the quest for novel, artificial-intelligence-based methods to design and build long-lasting, high-efficiency electrical components for harsh-environment applications, such as high-power radar and the aerospace, automotive, and wireless communications industries.

“The semiconductor industry is reaching the limit of what is possible in terms of making devices smaller,” Weller said.

“In order to remain on its remarkable, decades-long path of increasing performance and lowering cost, the industry is now shifting to new ways of packaging semiconductor devices. These packaging approaches introduce heat-management challenges, some of which our research will attempt to address.”

A collaborative Effort

The collaborative effort includes Oregon State’s Joshua Gess, Rob Stone, Chris Hoyle, and Rachael Cate, as well as researchers from Florida Atlantic University and the University of  South Florida.

This project, part of the NSF's Future of Semiconductors Program, or FuSe, was awarded $2 million in October. It will be undertaken with simultaneous consideration of electrical, mechanical, and thermal design, Weller said. Gess, Stone, and Hoyle are mechanical engineering faculty. Stone is also head of Oregon State’s innovation-focused Impact Studio.

“The key to solving the difficult challenge of heat management includes a co-design methodology where all parts of the systems are optimized together instead of separately, using machine learning methods to accelerate the process,” Weller said. “The underlying technical advance is the introduction of fluid-based heat management structures that are directly integrated with the electrical devices. The research could lead to faster and cheaper electronics for computing and communicating in the future.”

The researchers will also set up an educational outreach program for students in grades 7-12 that will double as service-based learning opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students involved in the project.

Graduate student Margaret Wade is suited up to perform some delicate operations in the clean room at Owen Hall.

Graduate student Margaret Wade is suited up to perform some delicate operations in the clean room at Owen Hall.

Northwest AI Hub

Weller is also heading up Oregon State’s contributions to the California-Pacific-Northwest AI Hardware Microelectronics Commons Hub.

The Northwest AI Hub, led by Stanford University with the University of California, Berkeley, is one of eight Microelectronics Commons regional innovation hubs awarded by the U.S. Department of Defense. The hub awards, the largest to date under the CHIPS and Science Act, were announced in September, with the Northwest AI Hub receiving $15.3 million out of a total package of $238 million awarded to eight innovation hubs across the country.

As a partner institution, Oregon State will co-develop a three-term, open-source microelectronics design course sequence for seniors and first-year graduate students, in collaboration with the hub’s workforce development program partners. The sequence will also serve as the base for a chip design-focused master of science degree.

“There is increasing need for students to graduate with training in modern integrated circuit design flows, from high-level description down through gate-level routing,” Weller said. “This new curriculum will help address that need to produce work-ready graduates for Oregon and beyond.”

Participants at the first CorMic workshop, hosted by Oregon State at Kelley Engineering Center in fall 2023.

Participants at the first CorMic workshop, hosted by Oregon State at Kelley Engineering Center in fall 2023.

Oregon State will also coordinate a professional development program that aims to broaden participation of veterans, underrepresented minority groups, and women in the semiconductor industry and to increase interest in careers in the field generally.

The centerpiece of the program will be a multiday, immersive, on-site experience that addresses community building, communication skills, hands-on technical experience, and networking opportunities with professionals from industry and academia. Each year, 20 students from hub schools and academic partners will participate, with priority given to those in associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs.

Additional workshops and seminars, delivered remotely and in-person, will be conducted during the year as part of the program. Oregon State will also support several fabrication training internships for community college students.

Learn more about semiconductor research at Oregon State by subscribing to the Semi@Oregon State newsletter.

Story by

Keith Hautala, Steve Lundeberg, Sean Nealon

May 8, 2024

Photos by

Karl Maasdam and Shivani Jinger

#Microfluidics | #CorMic | #Semiconductors | #AI | #Electrical and Computer Engineering | #ECE

Advancing Semiconductor Technologies in the Northwest

Last May, Oregon State was selected to spearhead a $1 million project, called Advancing Semiconductor Technologies in the Northwest, part of the National Science Foundation’s Regional Innovation Engines program.

The engine aims to develop a vibrant, inclusive, and sustainable ecosystem for education, research, and innovation in semiconductor technologies in the Pacific Northwest. Oregon State will work with more than two dozen partners over the next two years, including the University of Washington, Boise State University, the Oregon Business Council, and the city of Hillsboro.

At the conclusion of the project, the partners will be eligible for up to $160 million in additional funding over the succeeding 10 years.

The goals of the RIE include:

  • Advancing use-inspired solutions for semiconductor materials and devices
  • Inventing processes for scalable nanofabrication manufacturing
  • Innovating energy-efficient, memory-centric computing architectures
  • Increasing functionality via the More than Moore paradigm
  • Developing innovative computation tools to better align co-design principles
  • Expanding innovation and entrepreneurship
  • Supporting a diverse workforce by creating training programs and leveraging existing ones

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