Semiconductor Industry Assoc Calls for US to Accelerate Nanoelectronics Research

The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) today called for creation of a Nanoelectronics Research Institute to direct and coordinate a massive research effort to assure continued U.S. leadership in information technology after current semiconductor technology runs up against insurmountable physical limits.

Most researchers believe that CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) technology will encounter such limits in 15 years. After that time, the ability to deliver continuous improvements in information technology will require the use of new materials and devices with features so small that they are measured in a few nanometers. One nanometer is one one-billionth of a meter.

“The price for not starting now on a massive, coordinated research and development effort in nanoelectronics could be nothing less than a loss, in just two decades, of U.S. economic and defence leadership,” said Dr. John E. Kelly, III, senior vice president and group executive of the IBM Technology Group. Dr. Kelly spoke at the SIA Leadership Luncheon in Redwood City, California, today.

“The ability to collect, analyse, and distribute information is essential to virtually every productive human endeavour in today’s world,” said Dr. Kelly. “Economic prosperity and high-value jobs have come from decades of leading revolutions in mainframe computing, personal computing, wireless connectivity, and Internet technologies. All of this and the resulting increases in productivity have been driven by the relentless engine of making semiconductors smaller, more powerful, and less expensive.”

Dr. Kelly said that U.S. research and development efforts in semiconductor technology currently face an annual shortfall of approximately $1.5 billion compared to the investment necessary just to stay current with the CMOS technology roadmap outlined in International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS). The ITRS is a plan that identifies technical obstacles (known in the industry as “red brick walls”) that must be overcome in order to continue historical patterns of advances in semiconductor technology. Since the mid-1960s, advances in semiconductor technology have followed “Moore’s Law,” which postulates that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles every two years. Dr. Kelly noted that the R&D shortfall is even larger if the effort needed to develop technology beyond CMOS is included.

The Nanoelectronics Research Institute (NRI) proposed by the SIA would be a joint effort of the semiconductor industry, academia, and government. Researchers from university faculties, students, and assignees from industry would be charged with generating new ideas and discoveries and demonstrating the feasibility of creating a new switch with associated interconnects and memory using novel materials and manufacturing techniques by the year 2020.

Dr. Kelly and SIA stressed the vital importance of maintaining U.S. leadership in information technology in the era beyond CMOS. “The U.S. must be a leader in innovation,” said Dr. Kelly. “The U.S. cannot compete in an arena where low-cost labour is the differentiating factor. Constant innovation is the key to being competitive while paying high wages to our workforce.”

SIA estimates that the U.S. semiconductor industry has approximately 163,000 employees in the U.S. with an average annual total compensation of $97,000. If research investment is insufficient to support continuation of technological advances in accordance with Moore’s Law, the semiconductor engine driving productivity gains will slow down, or perhaps even stall, with adverse consequences for job creation, economic prosperity, and national defence.

Dr. Kelly noted that other regions of the world are accelerating research efforts in nanotechnology and investing heavily in state-of-the-art semiconductor manufacturing facilities in an effort to challenge U.S. leadership. “As we speak, state-of-the-art, 300-millemeter fabs with 90-nanometer process technology are coming on line in other parts of the world. No one doubts that the links between R&D and manufacturing are becoming more important, that these links are dynamic, and that proximity between labs and fabs is also an issue. Public policy must not only encourage R&D activities in the United States, but also provide an attractive climate for investing in production capacity in the U.S.”

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