Purdue University on Wednesday (Aug. 30) announced that the SCALE (Scalable Asymmetric Lifecycle Engagement) microelectronics workforce development program will receive more than $19 million in funding from the Department of Defense to strengthen existing efforts in key research areas and to add new academic partners.
The second installment of the DoD’s funding enhances efforts in areas including radiation-hardened microelectronics and trusted artificial intelligence and expands student training, continuing education and dissemination. It includes $3.8 million for Purdue, $5 million for Indiana University and $1.6 million for Vanderbilt University.
Some of these subjects are the focus at several universities that have been added as SCALE partners: Morgan State University, a historically Black college or university in Baltimore; the University of Tulsa; and the Microelectronics Security Training Center, headquartered at the University of Florida.
The SCALE program is the nation’s preeminent workforce development effort, funded by the DoD’s Trusted and Assured Microelectronics program and managed by Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division. Purdue leads a public-private-academic partnership of now 19 universities and 48 partners within the defense industry and government.
Peter Bermel, SCALE director and professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue, said the new funding will significantly expand this work, which is founded on Purdue’s Next Moves in national security and technology.
“Now, more students interested in these technical areas have more opportunities to get involved and develop in-demand skills and experiences,” Bermel said. “And we add these new partner universities while broadening the participation of current partner universities in SCALE.”
The SCALE partners regularly meet to update a prioritized list of knowledge, skills and abilities that are most needed for new entrants to the microelectronics and trusted artificial intelligence workforce.
“Understanding the most current technical and professional workforce skills in microelectronics is imperative for SCALE universities to fully develop students to meet those specialized workforce needs,” said Jennifer Linvill, SCALE director of workforce needs and assistant professor of technology leadership and innovation at Purdue.
As a result, SCALE universities will need to upgrade their classes, projects and research to ensure that students can meet the rapidly advancing needs of the field.
SCALE has a mission to bolster next-generation workforce development to bring the United States back to prominence in global microelectronics research and manufacturing. The demand for microelectronics increased 26% in 2021. But while the United States consumes about half of the chips produced worldwide, only about 12% are manufactured here. That is down from 37% roughly 30 years before.
Workforce development needs this kind of funding, Bermel said, especially to amplify the number of U.S. citizens who can work on these technologies.
“The expectation from multiple credible studies is there will be major shortages in the microelectronics workforce on a national scale if we do nothing. Part of the reason is that fewer U.S. students are going into undergraduate and graduate studies in high-tech areas,” he said, like electrical engineering.
At the same time, there is more money going into the actual technologies, Bermel said. “To achieve the goals of the CHIPS and Science Act, we need a deep pool of talented and motivated people who can do the work at the highest standards,” he said.
That talent pool must include both technical expertise and as much diversity as possible “to draw skilled and capable individuals from all parts of the country to meet the need and to benefit communities throughout the United States,” he said.
“In that sense, Morgan State joining SCALE with expertise in system-on-chip technology is a very important part of the story,” Bermel said, encouraging engineering students at historically Black colleges and universities and underrepresented minorities at all institutions to strongly consider careers in semiconductors and microelectronics.
Purdue is a national leader in microelectronics device and packaging research, spanning the semiconductor ecosystem in software and hardware. The funding announcement is the latest piece of Purdue’s continually expanding research and development in microelectronics and semiconductors. Purdue already has established excellence in other key research areas considered critical to national security, including microelectronics. Strategic initiatives such as the first comprehensive Semiconductor Degrees Program, which were announced before the CHIPS and Science Act passed in 2022, are intended to prepare a next-generation workforce for industry, while a separate partnership with SkyWater Technology, known as the READI Semiconductors Workforce Development initiative in Greater Lafayette, will support SkyWater’s planned $1.8 billion future state-of-the-art semiconductor manufacturing facility.