Nano R&D collaboration requires diversified funding, university help

by Debra Vogler, Senior Technical Editor

In an interview following the recent nanoTX’06 event in Dallas (9/26-9/28), Texas Instruments’ Senior Fellow and Technology Strategy Manager, Bob Doering, echoed some of the same themes discussed with SEMATECH’s Randy Goodall (see last week’s story), about ways to advance nanotechnology collaboration with government funding and university R&D.

Doering, who chaired an SIA subcommittee that looked into nanoelectronics research and presented results to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in December of 2003, told WaferNews that there are two challenges related to the semiconductor industry that are worthy of focus as “huge programs”: the search for the “beyond CMOS” device, and a new paradigm in manufacturing technology that enables the cost-effective manufacturing [nanoscale] with atomic precision. “Each of these programs would be about $200M/year projects,” he said, adding that he hopes these will rolled out in the next few years as part of the American Competitiveness Initiative.

Ratcheting up the funding levels will not by itself solve the problems of the semiconductor industry, Doering admits. TI is currently in a dialog with the ACI to see if any money can be used to fund the “beyond CMOS” project. “SWAN [the Southwest Academy of Nanoelectronics] is on a much smaller scale than the kind of money that is going into the ACI,” he noted. Another funding source could be the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), which “is spread over more agencies than ACI plans to be,” said Doering. “NNI has funds going to almost all of the major government science funding agencies, whereas ACI funds will be divided?principally going to DOE and NSF, and a little bit going to NIST.” He is hopeful that these separate agencies might be able to structure their programs and spend the money in a way that is synergistic.

Doering also added that SWAN has a relatively small budget from the Nanoelectronics Research Corp. (NERC), matching money from the state of Texas from its emerging technology fund — and 10x that amount of funds from another piece of the state of Texas emerging technology fund, the Talent Superiority Fund, which is aimed at providing chaired faculty positions at universities. That represents a new trend in our industry,” he said — “working not only with the federal government but also with state governments to leverage our money that way.” Texas, California, and New York are also participating with NERC.

TI is a major sponsor of the talent initiative activities of SWAN, which will create new faculty positions, particularly looking beyond CMOS devices. “And we’d like those to be close to home, which mostly means Texas,” he said. “We’re expecting that these faculty members will do great research and educate graduate students that we will be able to hire.” TI also expects to have access to the research results.

The research portfolio related to SWAN’s activities is still being developed, Doering added, and SWAN is currently negotiating contracts for the research, with feedback from the industry expected later this month. Because much of the work is still fundamental research and not yet well understood, he is careful to call it a “research portfolio” and not a roadmap. “Once it’s narrowed down a bit, which will probably take at least a year or more to better understand the physics, and by the time we get it down to two or three [areas for major research efforts], it might be more appropriate to turn it into a roadmap,” he explained.

Doering is quick to point out that SWAN is part of TxAN, the brainchild of experts in the state, SEMATECH, universities, and the state government. “The early emphasis will be on theory and then we’ll turn more toward manufacturing after we decide what we want to make,” he added. “What SEMATECH brings to the party is their ATDF, working in the mode of the lab along with university labs.” With ATDF’s equipment and more stringent manufacturing protocol, Doering noted that one can do more than is possible in a typical university lab. “ATDF can potentially take an idea out of a university lab and take it to the next level of investigation to see if it will be a robust manufacturing technology.”

Through SWAN, “we’re seeing such good collaboration between the universities — that’s not something you often see — and we’re seeing it both within and outside Texas,” Doering told WaferNews. He expects much of the semiconductor industry’s major influence in nanotechnology will be through these R&D partnerships. “We’ve learned how to work with each other pre-competitively — SEMATECH, SRC, and now NERC, and others. It’s just really been a very good way for us to work together even though we are nominally competitors,” he said. — D.V.


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