College first among top engineering schools to offer semiconductor degrees and programs
The modern world runs on semiconductor chips. They form the backbone of the entire computing and electronics industries and almost any product that plugs into a wall has at least one semiconductor chip (likely, many more) inside. A worldwide shortage of semiconductors — tried to buy a car lately? — caused by pandemic-induced supply chain disruptions has brought into sharp focus the need for more design, engineering, and manufacturing capacity (both worldwide and domestically in the US) to keep pace with the drive to put digital smarts everywhere. The semiconductor industry needs a lot more workforce-ready engineers to ramp up such capacity and Purdue is stepping up to meet the challenge.
The Purdue University College of Engineering is launching a suite of high-value degrees and credentials to educate and train the next generation of workforce leaders in microelectronics and advanced semiconductors. These degrees and credentials will enable graduate and undergraduate students to obtain targeted training in this field and transcripts certifying their credentials, making them highly valuable to employers.
The first credential to launch, in Spring 2022, will be a new graduate-level concentration in microelectronics and advanced semiconductors in the Elmore Family School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). The school will follow that up shortly thereafter with a new undergraduate concentration (for ECE students) and a new undergraduate minor (for students in other Purdue schools/departments).
The graduate-level concentration will also form the basis of an entirely new Master of Science (MS) degree in microelectronics and advanced semiconductors — launching in Fall 2022, pending approvals — offered by the Elmore Family School of Electrical and Computer Engineering in partnership with Purdue’s Schools of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Engineering. Depending on their interests, students can customize their coursework to focus on specialized sub-fields including, among others, materials, semiconductor devices and manufacturing, integrated circuit design, system-on-chip design, advanced packaging, cooling technologies, heterogeneous integration, and semiconductor supply chain. The College is also exploring a “project-based” option for the MS degree — letting students complete a substantial design project in microelectronics and advanced semiconductors as part of the curriculum, to become even more workforce-ready.
This will be the only interdisciplinary MS degree focused entirely on microelectronics and advanced semiconductors offered at the Top-10 ranked engineering colleges in the country. It’s a valued diploma — 26% of the workers in the semiconductor industry have graduate degrees, compared to an average of 14% for all other industries, and an additional 30% have undergraduate degrees.
“We have been working hard on designing and building these new programs to provide our students with a comprehensive set of advanced skills and specialized knowledge in the exciting fields of semiconductors and microelectronics," said Dimitrios Peroulis, the Michael and Katherine Birck Head of ECE. “I am confident that the impact of this move will be felt by many generations of engineers and the industry at large.”
“Purdue is a natural home for this program,” says Vijay Raghunathan, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and associate head of graduate and professional programs at the Elmore Family School of ECE. “It has historically been a national leader in microelectronics and semiconductors, from circuit and system design to advanced device design and modeling. The substantial volume of our synergistic activities — such as our Birck Nanotechnology Center, with one of the largest and most advanced university cleanrooms, and our multiple world-leading research centers on these topics — positions us well to jump out ahead of our peer institutions and lead the way in educating the next generation of semiconductor workforce leaders.”
That’s just what’s required, when it’s estimated that there will be 50,000+ openings for engineers in the semiconductor field in this decade. These engineers play a variety of roles in the semiconductor industry, from advanced research and development to designing, verifying, fabricating, and testing semiconductor chips. They also create the increasingly sophisticated electronic design automation (EDA) tools used to design and verify the complex chips of today containing (tens of) billions of transistors.
Private sector employers are clamoring for their expertise. A February 2021 KPMG International Global Semiconductor Industry Outlook, produced with the Global Semiconductor Alliance, found that 53% of responding semiconductor company CEOs identified talent development/management as their second-highest strategic priority over the next three years—a 13 percentage point rise from the previous year.
The U.S. government, recognizing the pressing need, has thrown its hat into the ring. This summer, Congress passed the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) for America Act. Part of the United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) (S.1260), CHIPS for America will include $52 billion in investments for domestic semiconductor research, design, and manufacturing.
That will mean even more demand for semiconductor engineers — a boon not only to the engineers, but to the broader economy. A May 2021 report by the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) and Oxford Economics indicates that the semiconductor industry's jobs multiplier is 6.7, meaning for each U.S. worker directly employed by the semiconductor industry, an additional 5.7 jobs are supported in the wider U.S. economy.
“Students will learn the manufacturing and design of chips, and the entire supply chain: the chemical engineering of gas reaction, the mechanical engineering of tool development and packaging, the material engineering of new manufacturing materials, and the industrial engineering of supply chain and logistics optimization,” says Mung Chiang, executive vice president of Purdue University for strategic initiatives and the John A. Edwardson Dean of the College of Engineering. “Semiconductor ecosystems work best when we create synergy across major companies in manufacturing and in design, small to medium disrupters with their investors, and researchers and teachers at universities. Now is the Silicon moment for America and Purdue is proud to play essential roles.”