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ASU faculty members selected to lead proposal for microelectronics research, development in the Southwest

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Phoenix Business Journal

Two Arizona State University faculty members were selected to lead a regional proposal that will advance microelectronics research, development, education, and training in the Southwest. 

ASU President Michael Crow appointed Sally Morton, executive vice president of ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise, and Kyle Squires, dean of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, to lead a team of faculty, staff and strategic partners to establish the Microelectronics Commons, a national network funded by the CHIPs and Science Act of 2022.

The team is responding to the U.S. Department of Defense’s Microelectronics Commons request for solutions, which solicits up to nine regional hubs that have “lab prototyping capabilities and sources of microelectronics talent for onshore, lab-to-fab transition of semiconductor technologies,” according to ASU’s website.

“Under the leadership of Dr. Morton and Dr. Squires and in partnership with colleagues in the private sector,” Crow said, “ASU will offer a strategic proposal to the U.S. Department of Defense to create and operate a Microelectronics Commons that drives a coordinated process of innovation at scale and helps the United States succeed in being the global leader in microchip research, development and manufacturing.”

The CHIPS and Science Act includes $2 billion for the Department of Defense to establish the Microelectronics Commons, which aims to expedite lab research, design and manufacturing of semiconductor products in the U.S.

The Microelectronics Commons will scale semiconductor technology and expand workforce needed in the sector by building partnerships in research and development, manufacturing and government, according to ASU’s website.

Growing the microelectronics industry

ASU’s proposal will prioritize connecting students, researchers and designers at universities and companies in the region with prototyping capabilities, further advancing a model established by the university’s MacroTechnology Works, a facility that accelerates semiconductor and energy device research in the U.S.

The microelectronics industry employs more than 22,000 people in Arizona, and the state’s broader semiconductor supply chain ecosystem includes leading equipment manufacturers, chemicals and materials suppliers, semiconductor packaging firms and defense electronics companies.

ASU is also working with higher education institutions in Mexico, as well as industry partners, to further support the growing semiconductor industry in North America. A new alliance between universities in both the U.S. and Mexico and microelectronics manufacturers will help build up a workforce and production capacity in the northwest border states of Mexico, ASU said.

Sen. Mark Kelly, a key negotiator in the CHIPS and Science Act, worked closely with ASU and business and industry groups to bolster Arizona’s role in semiconductor research and development.

“After nearly two years of work to secure funding for the Department of Defense’s National Network for Microelectronics Research and Development within the CHIPS Act, I’m excited to see this program take shape,” Kelly said in a statement. “This program will foster partnerships between universities and industry to establish new capabilities allowing American researchers, entrepreneurs and our armed forces to develop and test new microchip technologies in the United States, not in China.

Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) and TSMC announced three projects totaling $72 billion that call for either expanding or building new semiconductor fabrication facilities in the Phoenix area. In November, Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) announced it would begin buying its microchips in Arizona in 2024. 

Earlier this month, TSMC announced plans to build a second fab in north Phoenix, increasing its investment from $12 billion to $40 billion, marking one of the largest foreign direct investments in the state and U.S. history.

TSMC will produce 4-and 3-nanometer chips at its two north Phoenix fabs, which are both under construction. The nanometer chips are used in smartphones, AI, computers and autonomous vehicles.


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