10th Anniversary Insights
The Evolution of Packaging Education


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The first university course in packaging was offered nearly two decades ago, but the most significant changes in availability and breadth of university-level education programs have occurred in the past 10 to 15 years. The momentum has been fueled by industry and government interest and investment. Before the introduction of degree programs in microsystems packaging, corporate and govern ment research centers hired people with electrical, mechanical and chemical engineering degrees, who then needed substantial on-the-job training to attain the expertise to lead new research.

The History
During the 1970s, when no schools offered courses or even seminars on the topic, companies like IBM were self-sufficient incubators for microelectronic packaging research and development. In the late 1970s to early 1980s, IBM sponsored two education programs – one in the United States and one in Brussels to provide training in packaging for its employees worldwide.

At about that time, demand for sleeker, more efficient packaging for integrated circuits (IC) began to convince industry and government decision makers that they could benefit enormously from sponsoring specialized university programs to supply new ideas and talent to the research effort.

The University of Arizona was one of the pioneers. Funded by the Semiconductor Research Corp. (now SRC Co.), it established itself as a research center and quickly became known as a place to study packaging, with a focus on electrical topics. It first offered limited graduate level degrees and research.

Cornell University, also a pioneer, created another early program. In 1985, it sponsored a lecture series with guest professors from around the United States – with support in part from SRC. The lectures constituted a loosely structured syllabus and were an excellent introduction to packaging for Cornell's engineering students. It soon began offering courses and, over the years, became an important hub for packaging research and education, driven largely by neighboring IBM in Endicott, N.Y.

In 1987, IBM donated $24 million to 12 universities to promote packaging programs. During this phase, Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Illinois, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and others joined the ranks of those universities offering research programs in microsystems packaging.

In the mid-1980s, my colleagues and I realized that we needed basic teaching materials and collaborated on writing two books. The first, Microsystems Packaging Handbook, which Eugene Rymaszewski and I authored, was published in 1988. The second followed within a year and was authored by Don Seraphim, an IBM colleague. Immediately, the University of Arizona and Cornell began using them to support their coursework. Then, two other centers were established – one at the University of Maryland, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and headed by Michael Pecht and others, and one at the University of Arkansas, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and headed by Len Schaper.

In 1993, I joined the Georgia Institute of Technology as a full-time professor to establish an Engineering Research Center (ERC) with a $30 million grant from NSF. With NSF's financial backing, matching funds from the state, and the support of Georgia Tech, we were determined to reform packaging education completely. We wrote a new set of textbooks and began step-by-step to change the education landscape.

Education Today
Today, at any given time, Georgia Tech teaches about half the world's 500 or so packaging students – including about 70 undergraduates – with 60 to 70 graduating annually. The university offers nine undergraduate and 14 graduate packaging courses and all three levels of degrees: B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. with a focus in Microsystems Packaging.

Several other U.S. and foreign universities offer courses in packaging. A handful of universities have dedicated faculty and facilities specifically to packaging, and some even offer undergraduate and graduate degree programs, with required microsystems packaging courses and research.

The evolution of the programs we see today at many universities progressed slowly and still requires nurturing. A key hurdle is the expense of the specialized laboratories and laboratory equipment required for microsystems research and fabrication. Another hurdle is the fact that packaging researchers must be experts in several disciplines, including materials science, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, math and physics.

A First Undergraduate Textbook
A recent development that benefits the entire world's packaging education community was the publication of the first comprehensive textbook for undergraduates in 2001. Fundamentals of Microsystems Packaging, which I had the honor of editing, is the collaborative effort of 50 professors worldwide. Of the 50 to 60 universities worldwide that offer courses on the topic, 19 used the book for its courses in the spring of 2002.

The Role of Trade Associations
Engineering trade and professional associations play a critical role in supporting universities' efforts to implement educational programs. They also provide continuing education for practicing engineers, who need to fill the gap where formal packaging education was nonexistent or limited.

These groups, including IEEE's Components, Packaging and Manufacturing Technology (CPMT) Society and the International Microelectronics and Packaging Society (IMAPS), among others, continue building a strong foundation for packaging education by sponsoring grants, scholarships, seminars, technical conferences and other programs that directly promote our field of study.

A Legitimate Academic Discipline
I am proud that advanced packaging is now becoming accepted as a legitimate subject at some universities. I expect the number of programs and graduates to expand. Human resources specialists from both industry and universities estimate that the current demand for students with microsystems packaging expertise exceeds the supply by about 10 to one, and, despite recent economic issues, this gap should continue to widen. I expect the partnerships between industry, government, universities and trade associations to become stronger as we find innovative ways to fund education and research and continue facing our most difficult packaging challenges. AP

Professor Rao. R. Tummala, president of IEEE's Components, Packaging and Manufacturing Technology Society, is a chair professor in electrical and computer engineering and materials science and engineering and Founding Director of the Microsystems PRC funded by the National Science Foundation at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta. He may be e-mailed at [email protected].


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