January 11, 2022

Purdue-SRC partner in pursuit of advanced microelectronics, semiconductor workforce

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — In pursuit of more powerful microelectronic systems, more powerful microchips must be packaged closer together, with more robust connections – the same is true for the research partnership to achieve it.

Purdue University and the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC) are doing just that by connecting academic researchers and industrial practitioners together, providing the tools needed for revolutionary research and giving a platform for findings to be broadly shared.

During a recent event highlighting the partnership of these two organizations, Todd Younkin, SRC’s president and CEO, announced additional funding of projects at Purdue as part of SRC’s continued and growing commitment to microelectronics and advanced packaging technologies.

“This award confirms the strength of our partnership with Purdue in the microelectronics revolution,” Younkin said. “We look forward to expanding this partnership, with government participation, to take a giant leap forward and address the enormous possibilities for the industry and our country.”

src-group From left are Todd Younkin, Semiconductor Research Corp. president and CEO; Theresa Mayer, Purdue’s executive vice president for research and partnerships; Carol Handwerker, the Reinhardt Schuhmann Jr. Professor of Materials Engineering; Ravi Mahajan, Intel Fellow; and Ganesh Subbarayan, Purdue professor of mechanical engineering. (Purdue University photo/John Underwood) Download image

A critical need for microchip and packaging innovation

Microchips power the technologies we use every day from cell phones, computers and cars to pacemakers, the internet and the electrical grid. Their power and affordability have steadily advanced, but the physical limits of standard design and production trends are being reached.

Over the past 50 years, we’ve been able to follow Moore’s Law, which predicts that the number of transistors on a microchip will double every two years while the cost of a chip will be halved, but this could be ending, said Ganesh Subbarayan, Purdue professor of mechanical engineering.

“We face the potential limits of Moore’s Law, and we need to innovate,” he said. “The number of transistors and size of microchips have increased to the point where they are difficult and expensive to manufacture, as well as being more susceptible to defects. The next key innovation must be in advanced packaging through which microchips potentially from different companies are integrated on innovative platforms.”

Subbarayan co-leads the SRC Center for Heterogeneous Integration Research in Packaging, or CHIRP. Its mission is to drive the future evolution of advanced packaging technology, and it is the only SRC-funded university center exclusively dedicated to this research, he said.

The power of academic-industry partners

Purdue is a national leader in microelectronics devices and packaging research, spanning the semiconductor ecosystem in software and hardware, said Theresa Mayer, Purdue’s executive vice president for research and partnerships.

“Breakthrough innovations across all of the fields that feed and support microelectronics are needed for the next technological revolution,” she said. “This is where the power of the Purdue-SRC partnership shines. It combines the best minds in fundamental and applied research with the industry sense of the most urgent issues and commercial constraints. It combines the academic and street smarts of the most talented individuals in this area.”

SRC is a nonprofit American technology research consortium that serves as a platform for collaboration between technology companies, academia, government agencies, and its own engineers and scientists. More than 25 semiconductor companies are members of SRC, through which they partner with universities and government agencies. Over the past four years, SRC and its members invested $48 million in Purdue and the university’s partners.

The new set of projects funded by SRC provided an additional $735,000 over three years at CHIRP. Bahgat Sammakia of Binghamton University, SUNY, is CHIRP’s co-director.

Purdue’s packaging research prowess

In microelectronics a package can be anything from a circuit board with many components to the individual components, like the microchip for memory.

Semiconductor chips are fabricated from silicon single crystals using on the order of 1,000 individual processing steps and taking months to complete from start to finish. As the size of chips go up and the size of the transistors goes down, chips become more vulnerable to manufacturing defects.

“To combat this, the newest strategy is to design smaller chips, known as “chiplets,” that are less vulnerable to manufacturing defects, and then combine multiple microchips together with memory to create powerful, more cost-effective alternatives to a single large semiconductor chip,” said Carol Handwerker, the Reinhardt Schuhmann Jr. Professor of Materials Engineering.

“Innovations in design, materials, and processing are needed to integrate chips with other electronic components and that’s what advanced packaging does,” said Handwerker, who is an international leader in the microelectronics field. “As you do this, the connections become finer and finer and that puts extra demands on the materials.”

“Purdue is developing the new materials, the new measurement technologies and the interconnection technologies that form the basis of advanced packaging,” she said. “We must really understand how materials behave in these very aggressive environments as we are making them smaller and smaller.”

In addition to CHIRP, Purdue has three SRC center programs: Probabilistic Spin Logic for Low-Energy Computing, New materials for Logic, Memory, and Interconnects, and Brain-inspired Computing Enabling Autonomous Intelligence.

Industry-funded centers with research related to CHIRP include the Cooling Technologies Research Center (CTRC), and the Center for Secure Microelectronics Ecosystem (CSME). CHIRP partners include SRC member companies ARM, IBM, Intel, Mediatek, NXP, Samsung and Texas Instruments.

The Department of Defense also recently awarded $40 million over five years to a team led by Handwerker to create a multi-university, industry-government packaging research program to enable lead-free solders in defense electronics, called the Lead-Free Solder Performance and Reliability Assurance program.

Workforce Crisis

Addressing the supply chain weakness in semiconductor manufacturing and advanced packaging is an urgent national priority. In an effort to begin to act specifically on these needs, President Biden earlier this year issued an executive order on strengthening America’s supply chains in semiconductor manufacturing and advanced packaging, and championed the Senate’s USICA/CHIPS Act appropriating $52B to this cause.

Negotiations are ongoing, and U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo implored Congress to pass the CHIPS Act, calling the microchip shortage a crisis.

Workforce development is a shared mission of Purdue, SRC and the Department of Defense, Subbarayan said.

“Only 12% of semiconductors are manufactured in the U.S., and the state of advanced packaging manufacturing in the U.S. is even worse,” he said. “We’ve seen the impact of this first hand through the automobile chip shortage. Thinking longer term, we need chips with ever greater functionality for cell phones, computers, infrastructure, defense and space electronics. We must have more people pursuing microelectronics careers and creating innovative solutions for next generation semiconductors and advanced packaging.”

Purdue is working with students beginning at the undergraduate level to show them the possibilities of careers in microelectronics and advanced packaging technologies to get them involved in related research as early as possible, he said.

A stated mission of SRC is building a diverse, inclusive, and highly trained workforce for tomorrow, and it has sponsored more than 16,000 graduate students. In addition, SRC projects are designed to focus equally on research and workforce development.

Handwerker and Subbarayan also co-lead the advanced packaging activity of the $20 million Department of Defense project “Scalable Asymmetric Life Cycle Engagement” or SCALE.

SCALE is a national consortium for workforce development in radiation hardened technologies, heterogeneous integration and advanced packaging, system-on-a-chip, supply chain awareness, and embedded system security.

“We need to rally the troops to this exciting, rewarding and meaningful field,” Handwerker said. “We’re working on next generation technology that will make a difference in the world and that's what today’s students seek – truly making a difference.”

About Purdue University

Purdue University is a top public research institution developing practical solutions to today’s toughest challenges. Ranked in each of the last four years as one of the 10 Most Innovative universities in the United States by U.S. News & World Report, Purdue delivers world-changing research and out-of-this-world discovery. Committed to hands-on and online, real-world learning, Purdue offers a transformative education to all. Committed to affordability and accessibility, Purdue has frozen tuition and most fees at 2012-13 levels, enabling more students than ever to graduate debt-free. See how Purdue never stops in the persistent pursuit of the next giant leap at https://purdue.edu/.

Media contact: Brian Huchel, bhuchel@purdue.edu

Note to journalists: Journalists visiting campus should follow visitor health guidelines.

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