The UC Riverside and UC Irvine scientists received $5 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, or DOE, to partner with Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in building a diverse educational pipeline in the field of microelectronics – a priority for industry and government. Of this amount, nearly $4 million is allocated to UC Riverside.
“There is a critical need for a strong national semiconductor industry and infrastructure – and postgraduate research projects that provide students from all backgrounds with the skills required to work in this industry,” said Shane Cybartassociate professor of electrical and computer engineering and the Principal Investigator of the five-year grant. “We urgently need to develop human resources with advanced skills in microelectronics and related materials engineering. »
Semiconductors, used in almost all sectors of electronics, play an important role in everyday life. Cell phones, digital cameras, televisions, laptops, game consoles, microwaves, refrigerators, washing machines and LED bulbs all use semiconductor components. According to the Semiconductor Industry Association, the United States’ share of global semiconductor manufacturing capacity, which was 37% in 1990, has dropped to 12%.
The grant comes from National Nuclear Security Administrationor NNSA, part of the DOE, and seeks to educate and recruit the next generation of civilians capable of detecting counterfeit electronic devices.
Cybart explained that historically the United States has dominated the semiconductor industry. Over the years, however, most semiconductor manufacturing has shifted to Asia.
“The loss of a robust domestic semiconductor industry poses a serious threat to national security, from chip shortages and counterfeits to embedded hidden malicious hardware,” he said. “To revitalize the US chip industry, we will need a well-educated domestic workforce in microelectronics-related fields. Our project, called STEMMENcombines research on chip editing, the fabrication of new device materials and structures, and the study of the effects of radiation on microelectronics.
Cybart, who leads the UCR Nanofabrication facilityis joined by Ludwig BartelProfessor of chemistry at the UCR; Xiaoqing saucepan, professor of physics and materials science at the UCI; and Ed BielejecDirector of the Ion Beam Laboratory at Sandia National Laboratory.
An undergraduate summer research program will take place at UCR each year of the project using the infrastructure established at a current National Science Foundation-funded undergraduate research experience site: MacREU. Undergraduate students will be able to team up with graduate mentors and be assigned projects that contribute to the research goals of the partnership. Some students may join mentors at Sandia National Laboratory. At the graduate level, a total of six doctoral students will conduct thesis work and travel to Sandia National Laboratory to work with laboratory staff. A postdoctoral researcher will work on the project.
The participation of Hispanic students in the project is highlighted. The grant comes from the NNSA Partnership Program with Institutions Serving Minorities, recognizing that the project depends on the contribution of individuals from all walks of life. UCR is a certified Hispanic-serving institution, with a staff of nearly 40% Hispanic students. MacREU enrollment is almost 50% Hispanic.
The project will train students in cybersecurity, hardware forensics and the effects of radiation. They will investigate unanswered questions related to electronic materials and quantum devices and develop practical expertise with focused ion beams, electron microscopes, and materials synthesis.
“Traditionally, we’ve seen low Hispanic participation in the STEM workforce,” said Ludwig Bartels, the grant’s co-principal investigator and director of MacREU at UCR. “Increasing enrollment in STEM degrees, which are often perceived as more difficult and requiring more time commitment, requires financial support and direct mentoring throughout the year. Such support programs, once established, are not limited to Hispanic students, ultimately benefiting any socioeconomically challenged student in pursuit of a STEM degree.
Cybart, who has decades of experience in nanofabrication, electrical characterization, and superconducting devices, will oversee research on gas-field ion source nanofabrication and superconducting electronics. Bartels, who has collaborated with researchers at Sandia National Laboratory for more than 10 years, will lead research efforts on the effects of irradiation on materials and direct the undergraduate program at UCR. Pan will help graduate students develop innovative transmission electron microscopy techniques for electrical circuits, materials characterization, and atomic-level imaging of radiation defects. Bielejec will connect UCR and UCI students with the appropriate research groups and technical staff at Sandia National Laboratory.
“Our scientific objectives are directly directed towards the training of graduate students in skills and fields which are urgently needed for the National Nuclear Security Administration, and to help place them in NNSA labs as postdoctoral researchers upon graduation,” Cybart said. “Our track record of advising, mentoring and graduating various domestic students indicates a very high likelihood of success.”
Cybart and Bartels are faculty members at UCR Materials Science and Engineering Program.