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Purdue Starts Comprehensive Semiconductor Degree Programs in U.S.

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Purdue University is ramping up what it calls the first “comprehensive” degree program in the U.S. in semiconductor engineering as America aims to rebuild its chip industry.

“In order to satisfy the increased demands that we see with perhaps 13 new fabs being built in the U.S. over the next five years or so, we see a demand for something like 50,000 new semiconductor engineers,” Mark Lundstrom, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University, told EE Times. “That’s more than double the number of semiconductor engineers that U.S. universities are currently producing.”

Intel, Samsung, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. are leading the chip industry with investments worth tens of billions of dollars in fab projects around the world in anticipation of soaring demand. That means semiconductor engineers will be in scarce supply not just in the U.S., but in the rest of the world as well.

Mark Lundstrom (Source: Purdue University)

The Rochester Institute of Technology in New York is one of a few U.S. academic institutions that has offered a semiconductor program, Lundstrom notes. Purdue, one of the largest engineering schools in the U.S., aims to stand out with its “comprehensiveness and scale”, according to Lundstrom.

Semiconductor company CEOs have endorsed the Purdue initiative, which is advised by a board of senior chip executives.

Some of the chip executives have been in weekly discussions with Lundstrom and other educators on how Purdue will implement the program. Chipmakers are looking for new recruits with extensive domain knowledge.

“When I talk with companies, they need such a broad range of talent from electrical engineers, computer engineers, mechanical engineers, industrial engineers, material engineers, chemical engineers,” he said. Purdue’s strategy is to engage students from its various engineering departments in the microelectronics field and encourage them that the chip industry is worth considering for a career.

Semiconductor Degrees Program (SDP), a set of Purdue degrees and credentials, will train graduate and undergraduate students.

Purdue’s College of Engineering is supporting the SDP by providing seed funding in three ways: summer courses for undergraduates in preparation for co–ops and internships with semiconductor companies; tape–out projects allowing graduate and undergraduate students to fabricate their chip designs in a foundry; and scholarships for students in the new interdisciplinary master’s degree.

The undergraduate experience will begin with a freshman introductory course that offers internships or co–op experiences to promising students, leading to semiconductor minors and concentrations as options.

Graduate students will have a project–based option for a master’s degree, or stackable certificates at the master’s level that will prepare them to be workforce–ready upon graduation. Students will design, fabricate, and test their own chips through innovative partnerships with the industry.

Courses will address supply chain issues in chemical engineering, mechanical engineering for tool development, thermal management, packaging, and material engineering as well as industrial engineering, logistics, and manufacturing optimization.

Carbon nanotube animation generated
with CNTBands tool on nanoHUB (Source: nanoHUB) (Click image to enlarge)

Students can tailor their studies to focus on specialized sub–fields such as SoC design, heterogeneous integration, and emerging devices.

The university has state–of–the–art chip facilities such as the Birck Nanotechnology Center and nanoHUB, one of Lundstrom’s creations. nanoHUB is an online resource for nanoelectronics, providing online access to sophisticated electronic device simulations as well as open–content educational resources.

With more than 50 faculty members specializing in semiconductor technology, Purdue aims to lead in research and industry partnerships.

The university has existing collaborations with the U.S. Department of Defense’s SCALE (Scalable Asymmetric Lifecycle Engagement) program, the American Semiconductor Academy, and other CHIPS Act workforce consortia.

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