Universities in the microelectronics ecosystem
Institutions of higher learning are central actors in the microelectronics enterprise. Universities, together with colleges and community colleges, contribute virtually the entire workforce in the microelectronics ecosystem. Universities also generate the lion’s share of fundamental research that identifies early opportunities and show stoppers. It is in university labs that the application potential of a new technology is often recognized first, and it is university facilities that often spawn the new companies that bring pioneering concepts to the world. Most major innovation hubs around the world are in close proximity to university campuses.
U.S. universities have long enjoyed an enviable preeminence in science and technology that has contributed to the long-standing U.S. microelectronics leadership. The country’s universities attract the very best graduate students and postdocs from across the planet. They join our labs and contribute to the research enterprise, and most remain in the U.S. upon graduation. This pool of talent also rejuvenates the faculty ranks and launches new commercial ventures. There has long been great respect in U.S. academia for “the dignity of useful knowledge” and the translation of fundamental research into practical technologies that better the world. The engagement of industry in university research activities has been productive and valued by all involved. Since Vannevar Bush’s post-world-war “Endless Frontier,” the U.S. government has vigorously championed fundamental research in microelectronics and fostered academia-industry partnerships that address major challenges and exploit new possibilities.
Universities, together with colleges and community colleges, contribute virtually the entire workforce in the microelectronics ecosystem.
Alas, the pride that we take in our many achievements in microelectronics risks obscuring the challenges that we face as the U.S. seeks to reestablish dominance in this crucial area. In this extraordinarily fast-moving field of microelectronics, the technological landscape that we navigate is changing at an ever-increasing pace. Staying on top has grown precarious given the aging facilities and inadequate resources of U.S. universities. Societal changes are also a factor as interest in “hard tech” among U.S. students wanes. Hidden deep inside shiny boxes, microchips are taken for granted, and STEM-inclined students today cannot see a fulfilling career in the microelectronics industry that creates them. Meanwhile, other countries, including our adversaries, have made it a national priority to wrestle the microelectronics future away from the U.S.
This white paper summarizes the role of universities in the microelectronics ecosystem, highlighting areas of strength and identifying challenges and opportunities for universities to contribute to a renewed U.S. leadership. The following sections focus on the four key aspects of the university enterprise:
• education and workforce development,
• technology translation, startups and intellectual property,
• and academic infrastructure.
In addition, we discuss regional network efficiencies that can be exploited in realizing this national quest.