By Rachel Robinson
WaferNews Associate Editor
Semiconductor technology is a key driver for not only the US economy, but for the world’s, as well, but the future of the industry may be in peril if the US government doesn’t step up to the financial plate, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA).
If the US is going to keep on pace in terms of technological growth, the federal government has to provide additional funding for university research for the physical sciences and engineering, SIA believes.
According to SIA, from 1993 to 1998, federal funding for key disciplines declined considerably. Funding for math and physics research declined some 20% during that time, funding for chemistry dropped about 10%, and funding for some fields of engineering dropped between 20 to 40%.
The danger here, Juri Matisoo, VP of technology at SIA told WaferNews, is that with a decrease in funding comes a decrease in professors and students. That decrease leads to a smaller pool of qualified professionals, which, in turn, translates into a lack of the university-based research which is often the basis for the future of information technology.
Staying in line with Moore’s Law had led to faster US economic growth, greater productivity, higher federal budget surpluses, and the creation of higher-paying high-tech jobs. But, as technology advances and new technical challenges emerge, SIA insists that current levels of government funding are not adequate.
The group believes that within the next six years, the semiconductor industry will be facing technical challenges for which there are no known solutions. With that knowledge comes the conviction that federal funding for research is imperative.
“I don’t think that the funding has ever been sufficient,” Matisoo said. “SIA has really put its efforts behind getting Congress to increase funding for universities. If you look at federal funding, the budgets for institutes of health have gone up. On the other hand, the physical sciences have been left behind, with budgets decreasing over five or more years.”
Matisoo told WaferNews that the Clinton administration increased the National Science Foundation (NSF) budget by 10% during his last two years in office. During the first year of the Bush administration, an increase of only 1% was proposed, but, after time spent lobbying Congress, it went up by 7.5%.
“Is the 7.5% increase enough?” Matisoo asked. “I doubt it.”
With the physical limits of semiconductor performance approaching, the latter stages of the ITRS roadmap would be affected by the lack of funding to university research. “That’s where the revolutionary ideas come from,” Matisoo said.
According to SIA, a loss of international leadership in semiconductor technology would be economically damaging, and would hurt the ability of the US to provide for national security. With that in mind, SIA believes that with cooperation between the US government and the chip industry, it can be ensured that the basic physical science and engineering needed to drive progress, and the economy, will be in place.
SIA supports the following initiatives:
*Multiyear funding for university-based research in advanced microelectronics by the defense department;
*A tripling of the funding for physical sciences of chemistry, materials sciences, physics, mathematics, electrical and communications systems engineering, computer and information science and engineering programs, and related engineering research centers;
*$5 million for work at NIST for measurement technology at the nanometer level.
Additionally, a top priority for SIA is multiyear funding for the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Government-Industry Co-sponsorship of University Research (GICUR) program, which it hopes will receive $9.2 billion in FY02, up from FY01’s $6.7 billion. Currently, four semiconductor-related centers are under the GICUR program, with activities at 22 universities nationwide. The centers are the Gigascale Silicon Research Center/Design and Test at UC-Berkeley; the Interconnect Focus Center at Georgia Institute of Technology; the Materials, Structures and Devices Focus Center at MIT; and the Circuits, Systems, and Software Focus Center at Carnegie Mellon U.
According to SIA, the funding will allow MIT and Carnegie Mellon to reach planned levels and experience growth in their programs.
SIA also recommends that the Future Years Defense Program include sufficient funds to allow the focus center program to grow as originally planned in 1999 – the budget calls for: 2002 – $10 million; 2003 – $13 million; and $15 million in 2004, 2005, and 2006.
The long-term increase in the Future Years Defense Program should be within the context of the larger increases in defense R&D, according to SIA. In FY02, the Department of Defense will receive some $49.2 billion in funding, with a proposed increase to $54.5 billion in FY03.
SIA also supports the National Nanotechnology Initiative, and believes that funding should be increased from the FY01 level of $446 million to $579 million in FY02, and $679 million in FY03. According to published reports, President Bush’s budget, which has been sent to Congress, requests 17% more, or $679 million, for the federal Nat. Nanotechnology Initiative.
Additionally, SIA supports a doubling of the budget for the NSF from FY01 $4.4 billion to $8.8 billion in FY06.