Reasserting U.S. Leadership in Microelectronics

– The Role of Universities

Education and workforce development

Academic infrastructure

Technology translation, startups and intellectual property


Regional networks


U.S. strength in semiconductor tech-
nology and fabrication is vital to U.S.
economic and national security interests.
” ¹


The United States’ longstanding leadership in the realm of semiconductors and microelectronics is today under serious challenge. The solution: a concerted and ambitious national response that emphasizes manufacturing, innovation and workforce development. As a key element in the rich ecosystem that has underlaid U.S. preeminence in microelectronics for more than 50 years, universities play a significant role in this national quest.

This white paper synthesizes a high-level vision for how universities can best contribute towards the national priority of reasserting U.S. leadership in microelectronics. With a “first-principles” approach, we propose a process for deliberation and resource allocation that looks at three key questions: what are the needs of the country, how do they map onto the core competences of universities, and which programs and partnerships are most likely to deliver the desired results. It should be noted that in this document, we do not attempt to match the proposed programs to specific initiatives currently under discussion, such as those spelled out in the CHIPS Act (National Semiconductor Technology Center, National Network for Microelectronics R&D, National Advanced Packaging Manufacturing Program and others) or the Endless Frontiers Act.

The study presented in this white paper leads to several recommendations. We bin them into five categories:

1. Education and workforce development

• Create a nationwide university/industry/government program to develop educational content for broad dissemination and to support outreach initiatives designed to expose and attract high-school students and first-year college students from diverse backgrounds.

•Invest in and support the maintenance of educational facilities and programs at universities designed to foster hands-on, project-based, design-oriented, multidisciplinary research and educational experiences for undergraduates.

• Create nationwide fellowship and internship programs for undergraduate, masters, PhD students and postdocs.

2. Research

• Establish research programs that foster a broad range of research, from fundamental to industry and national-security oriented, from single-investigator to multidisciplinary and multi-institution. Research programs must pay the full cost of research (salaries, materials, fab expenses, etc.), and Intellectual Property (IP) terms must equally support all commercialization pathways.

3. Technology translation, startups and intellectual property

• Develop programs designed to facilitate the maturation of technology in appropriate university environments and the subsequent translation to external foundries and corporate R&D laboratories.

• Create programs to support the generation and nurturing of microelectronics startups by partially underwriting user fees at shared university facilities. Establish translational fellows’ programs to facilitate the exploration of startups by students and postdocs.

4. Academic infrastructure

• Make large, sustained investments in updating fabrication and metrology equipment in university research facilities with emphasis on outfitting a few with flexible, production-class but research-oriented, 200 mm tools.

• Establish programs to provide sustained support for operational costs of the national university tool base.

• Invest in a nationwide program to underwrite the creation of new faculty positions, to provide flexible career-initiation grants to junior faculty, and to engage industry researchers in university activities.

5. Regional networks

• Foster regional networks to create and manage research programs, educational programs, startup support, outreach, and internship programs with a regional dimension and that are designed to facilitate the involvement of educational institutions previously on the sidelines of the national microelectronics enterprise.

¹ “Semiconductors: U.S. Industry, Global Competition, and Federal Policy” by Congressional Research Service, October 26, 2020.

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