The semiconductor CHIPS law could give North Carolina’s tech sector a boost, experts say

Editor’s Note: Innovation Thursday is a regular feature of WRAL TechWire. These stories focus extensively on different parts of North Carolina’s innovation economy. Today we’re publishing an in-depth post from Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering on how our state can revitalize a decades-long commitment to the semiconductor industry.


DURHAM – More than 40 years ago, the North Carolina state legislature created the Microelectronics Center of North Carolina (MCNC) to be a catalyst for technology-based economic development across the state. And it worked. For two decades, the area was at the forefront of computer innovation and home to industry giants like IBM and Lenovo.

While many of the tech giants eventually moved much of their infrastructure out of the state, and the region’s semiconductor strengths declined in the 2000s, the fundamentals remain intact. It doesn’t take much digging to discover faculty and researchers across the Southeastern United States that hark back to the early days of MCNC—and many of those threads run through Duke University.

Now, with the opportunities offered by the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, these connections will be amplified and combined with emerging technologies such as neuromorphic and quantum computing to revitalize computing technology innovation and manufacturing infrastructure across the region. Recently, leaders from a variety of these important computing technologies came together on the Duke University campus for a symposium organized by the Pratt School of Engineering and the Duke Office for External Partnerships to explore ways in which their individual expertise could be combined to to meet the challenges set out in the CHIPS and Science Act.

“Last year, the US Congress passed the CHIPS and Science Act, a monumental piece of legislation that makes significant investments in our semiconductor and science ecosystems in the United States,” said Jerome P. Lynch, Vinik Dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University in the opening speech. “We have to be ready to seize this opportunity. Not just as individual researchers and institutions, but as a multidisciplinary and multi-stakeholder group that can fuel the growth of the semiconductor industry for the entire Southeast region and the United States as a whole.”

Claiming to be great, such an effort would require many dedicated experts working in academia, industry, research, non-profit organizations and governments – and they came to heed the call to action. Two main webs were woven throughout the day, one focused on AI hardware and the other on quantum computing. And running through both were other themes centered on human resources development, in which universities continue to play a huge role.

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Speakers detailing their research initiatives included:

Paul Franzon of North Carolina State University, who spoke about his work on chiplets, a modular approach to building processors that is being pursued commercially by both AMD and Intel. NVIDIA’s Alicia Klinefelter, who spoke about the company’s existing presence in North Carolina and leadership work in these areas, such as free and open architectures that promote a standard way of designing deep learning inference accelerators and tile-based accelerator architectures with distributed memory from the University of Florida, who spoke about maintaining security on various types of emerging hardware. Garrett Rose, from the University of Tennessee, who spoke about neuromorphic computing, which mimics the way neural pathways evolve based on inputs over time be strengthened or weaned to learn to process data Sherine Obare, dean of the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, who led a panel discussion on human resource development Duke University’s ris Monroe and Jungsang Kim, i.e They reviewed the unique research and teaching skills being developed at the Duke Quantum Center. Samuel Graham, Jr., dean of the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering, who along with Duke’s Christopher Monroe has long been a voice on Capitol Hill driving the national discussion about the importance of quantum computing

Also on display was Duke Engineering’s extensive expertise and facilities in many areas critical to the future of the semiconductor industry. Despite the school’s relatively small size, it has many of the research and development capacities and infrastructure usually reserved for much larger institutions. For example, the Duke Quantum Center in downtown Durham is a unique facility that not only focuses on achieving quantum supremacy on an industrial scale, but also engages users and teaches students how to carry today’s visions into decades to come can.

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Duke’s semiconductor-related portfolio includes full-stack capabilities, from discovering and validating new materials, to testing the potential use of new materials in semiconductor devices, to mapping how new devices can fit into new architectural frameworks and still enable interfaces with existing technology .

A large part of these capabilities come from the Shared Materials Instrumentation Facility (SMIF) – a shared resource available to researchers from all schools and departments of the university, as well as users from other universities, government laboratories and industry. Since its inception in 2002, SMIF has provided access to advanced materials characterization and fabrication capabilities and fostered interdisciplinary collaboration. SMIF’s full-time staff and engineers ensure that all fabrication and characterization equipment is well maintained, resulting in excellent uptime. It is a central facility in the RTP region for semiconductor innovation, which includes manufacturing, devices and processes.

For example, Duke is working on 1D and 2D nanomaterials for nanoscale transistors, neuromorphic devices, and printed electronics. This includes work on more environmentally friendly manufacturing approaches using these nanomaterials.

Duke also has an entire cohort focused on discovering new ways of networking and integrating disparate computing power to deliver incredibly fast results through the concept of edge computing through the NSF-funded AI Institute for Edge Computing Leveraging Next Generation Networks or ” Athena”.

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“Semiconductors are the backbone of every breakthrough technology we can imagine,” said Hai “Helen” Li, Clare Boothe Luce Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and chair of the same department. “Duke University is a leader in critical areas like quantum computing, AI hardware, and secure edge computing. With constant innovation in semiconductor manufacturing, we will be able to take these technologies to the next level. We are very happy to be part of this wave of innovation.”

Several Duke faculty also spoke about the Research Triangle Nanotechnology Network, a collective of researchers focused on transformative nanotechnology research, discovery, education, commercialization and people development. Such organizations are examples of the existing regional grassroots liaisons that are willing to be brought into a strong coalition to implement aspects of CHIPS and Science Law.

The research comments were followed by a panel discussion on human resource development, led by representatives from the National Science Foundation, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Duke University and MCNC. Panelists pointed out that expanding the region’s and country’s manufacturing capabilities will require much more than just research — it will require a concerted effort to engage with communities that, for cultural and historical reasons, typically do not have jobs in the country track technical production.

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“It’s not just about doing the right thing. We simply cannot fill the jobs that these manufacturing efforts require unless we expand participation,” said Tracy Doaks, President of MCNC. “Some parents don’t want their kids to go to college because they’re afraid they won’t come back. The household barriers to broadband, healthcare and jobs are all interconnected. A more holistic view that includes developing healthy, supportive households to reach talent in the more rural areas. Because we can create all the cutting-edge research and industry partnerships that we want, but if we don’t have a skilled workforce to translate that work and get it out into the world, the whole effort won’t succeed. ”

These discussions and burgeoning collaborations have been further strengthened by the presence and involvement of key stakeholders in the national CHIPS and Science Act efforts. Representatives from the National Science Foundation and the North Carolina Defense Technology Alliance were there. The lunch included a keynote address from Tim Greeff, the President and CEO of NSXTL, the organization tasked with the monumental challenge of implementing much of the $280 billion program, who recognized that Duke and the Southeast region are related are well positioned on research and innovation, industry presence and workforce.

“This country needs its best and brightest to come together to put it back at the forefront of research, computing innovation and manufacturing excellence,” Lynch said at the end of his opening address. “So while we all hope to earn trust and future funding, ultimately we too are here to serve society and make the world a better and safer place based on the next generation of computing technologies that will emerge from CHIPS.” -funded work.”

(C) Duke University

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