Purdue to lead national workforce development project on trusted microelectronics

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University will lead a national initiative sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense to address the urgent need for engineering graduates to develop defense technologies, especially in the area of microelectronics.

The Scalable Asymmetric Lifecycle Engagement Microelectronics Workforce Development program (SCALE) is a $19.2 million multi-university public-private-academic partnership that will be used for workforce development across engineering universities across the nation.

Michael Kratsios, acting undersecretary of defense for research and engineering and chief technology officer of the United States, said, “A skilled technical microelectronics workforce is required to ensure success of DoD [Department of Defense] modernization initiatives.”

“The workforce development program will be scalable to be used by any interested higher education institution,” said Mark Lewis, acting deputy undersecretary of defense for research and engineering.

“The program will be conducted in partnership with the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division as a nationally coordinated network of government, industry, and university partners, regionally executed,” he said. “The goal is to create an asymmetric workforce advantage in microelectronics.”

The United States once held a global advantage in microelectronics manufacturing, but due to industry consolidation, in 2020 only four companies maintain semiconductor fabrication capabilities at 14 nanometers and below. These are the U.S.-based Intel Corp.; the Taiwan-based Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC); the South Korea-based Samsung; and the U.S.-based (but Abu Dhabi-owned) GlobalFoundries.

Alison Smith, education and workforce development co-lead of the trusted and assured microelectronics program at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division, said that the defense industries must compete for these interdisciplinary skill sets with the disciplines needed being those that companies in the United States report as the most difficult positions to fill.

“The issue is multifold,” she said. “Those of us working in national defense technologies have to compete with these thousands of companies that need the same skill sets, some of our needed skill sets are not currently taught in traditional curricula, and these positions are the hardest to fill because the demand is so much greater than the supply. We also have the additional difficulty of only recruiting domestic students. We need both a trained and a clearable workforce. Moreover, the difficulty is compounded for engineers with expertise in cutting-edge microelectronics.”

While the field of microelectronics is reshaping the semiconductor industry – and as the leading edge of advanced technologies has moved to seven nanometers – devices used in national security and defense require additional innovations to remain secure and operate in extreme environments.

Theresa Mayer, Purdue University executive vice president for research and partnerships, said secure and resilient microelectronic systems “underpin advanced technologies critical to national security, including artificial intelligence, hypersonics, advanced communications networks, autonomous systems and others. Cutting-edge education and research are at the heart of meeting these national security needs.”

At Purdue, the SCALE program, directed by Peter Bermel, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, brings together faculty across the Purdue College of Engineering with faculty from 14 universities, the Department of Defense, NASA, Department of Energy NNSA labs, and the defense industry to create a microelectronics workforce focused on national security needs.

Universities across the nation will be involved in specific areas of microelectronics education and workforce development critical to national security, starting with:

  • Radiation hardening of microelectronics will include Vanderbilt University (lead), the Air Force Institute of Technology, St. Louis University, Brigham Young University, Arizona State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, SUNY-Binghamton, Arizona State University, Indiana University, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and New Mexico State University.
  • Heterogeneous integration of electronics, which includes Purdue University (lead), Georgia Institute of Technology, Binghamton University-State University of New York, and Arizona State University.
  • System-on-a-chip electronics, which includes Ohio State University (lead); Georgia Institute of Technology; Purdue University and the University of California, Berkeley.

“Today’s engineering students are energized by the grand challenges facing the nation,” says Mark Lundstrom, acting dean of the Purdue College of Engineering and the Don and Carol Scifres Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “To create this urgently needed U.S. workforce for microelectronics, SCALE partners will work with students across the nation to build strong relationships with government and the defense industrial base and to develop the new technologies needed for secure and resilient microelectronics.”

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