If the central role of semiconductors, commonly known as integrated circuits or computer chips, in almost every facet of modern life wasn’t clear before, the pandemic has made it abundantly so.
Virtually anything electronic has at least one semiconductor chip inside it and likely many more. A worldwide shortage and COVID-related supply chain disruptions have made it more difficult to source, produce and ship these essential components and, consequently, more difficult – and expensive – to manufacture and purchase everything from a new game console to a new automobile, and myriad other products that contain semiconductors. The situation has the federal government and major companies in the industry pushing for a rapid expansion of semiconductor production capacity in the U.S. to increase supply and reduce reliance on overseas sources.
Despite these efforts, however, an essential component of the semiconductor industry could well remain in short supply – people. Purdue University is addressing that need with its Semiconductor Degrees Program, a new suite of innovative, comprehensive, high-value Purdue degrees and credentials that targets graduate and undergraduate students and working professionals, including a new 100% online interdisciplinary Master of Science degree in microelectronics and semiconductors launching in fall 2022.
The new online master’s is a “6-in-1” interdisciplinary degree focused on all aspects of microelectronics and semiconductors, with Purdue’s top-ranked Elmore Family School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, its mechanical, materials, industrial and chemical engineering schools, and its environmental and ecological engineering division all deeply involved.
The interdisciplinary nature of the degree will allow students, working with expert Purdue faculty, to customize their program and focus on specific areas of microelectronics and advanced semiconductors, from the materials that go into the chips to the design of the chips themselves and from advanced packaging to the supply chain.
“There are many different subareas of specialty that a student can choose to pursue, and this curriculum is designed to give students that flexibility,” said Vijay Raghunathan, professor of electrical and computer engineering. “This really is a terrific opportunity for students that have different interests within this big umbrella of microelectronics and semiconductors to take different pathways leading up to the same degree.”
The 30-credit-hour interdisciplinary master’s in microelectronics and semiconductors can be completed entirely online or done in a hybrid mode with 20 to 80 percent of the coursework performed on Purdue’s West Lafayette campus. That makes the degree readily available to working professionals globally as well as to graduating bachelor’s students looking to go on and earn an advanced degree.
The new interdisciplinary master’s in microelectronics and semiconductors also includes a project option in which students can participate in a yearlong design project aimed at giving them hands-on experience, for example, designing a chip for a certain application, having it fabricated, and testing and evaluating it.
“One of the things that we hear from industry is they really like to see students have a good amount of hands-on experience,” Raghunathan said. “The more project-based and experiential learning that we can give students, the better. They’re going to be highly sought after because they’re going to be productive employees from day one.”
With the recent attention and activity on growing the nation’s capacity in microelectronics and advanced semiconductors, the number of jobs in the field is projected to grow by 50,000 to 70,000 in the U.S. alone by the end of this decade, and such growth is expected internationally as well.