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You there, boffins and tech giants, take this $50m and figure out better chips

Yes, the Chinese will never think of doing something like this, muhaha

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) has enlisted a group of technology companies to help research the next generation of semiconductors.

The idea is that, rather than tinkering with and improving existing designs, engineers and scientists look at new materials, tech and processes to work with, research that can then be built upon.

The NSF said that it has formed a cross-sector partnership with Intel, IBM, Samsung and Ericsson to support the design of next-generation semiconductors as part of its Future of Semiconductors (FuSe) initiative.

This $50 million undertaking will see the NSF and the partner companies invest in a range of projects that "cultivate a broad coalition of science and engineering researchers to pursue holistic, co-design approaches," it said.

Co-design approaches simultaneously consider the device/system performance, manufacturability, recyclability, and impact on the environment, the NSF claimed, and so by backing researchers who are working with materials, devices, architectures, systems and applications, novel semiconductor technology can be designed and developed in an integrated fashion.

The FuSe initiative itself appears to be aimed at wide-ranging basic research into the materials and technologies that will lead the way towards future semiconductors.

The NSF's synopsis for the initiative says that the current state of semiconductor microelectronic systems is now at a crossroads as developments that have underpinned previous advances – such as new materials, processes, devices and architectures – have often progressed independent of their application areas.

It asserts that materials, devices and systems now need to be co-designed, created with simultaneous consideration of as many elements of the technology chain as possible, spanning materials, devices, circuits, architectures, software and applications.

"Future semiconductors and microelectronics will require transdisciplinary research spanning materials, devices, and systems, as well as the engagement of the full spectrum of talent in the academic and industrial sectors," NSF director Sethuraman Panchanathan said in a statement announcing the latest collaboration.

"Partnerships such as this are essential to inform research needs, spur innovation, accelerate the translation of results to the market, and prepare the future workforce," he added.

US slice of market still only 10%

According to the NSF, semiconductor shortages over the past couple of years have made it difficult for chip manufacturers to meet the increasing demand for digital products using chips. It goes on to point out that while American demand for chips is high, only about 10 percent of the global supply is produced in the US.

Investments via this latest public-private partnership will help address this problem by spurring research and innovation, the NSF claimed, leading to breakthroughs in semiconductors and microelectronics, and boosting the myriad applications that rely upon them.

It isn't clear whether this partnership and the FuSE initiative will operate using funds from the US CHIPS Act, but the NSF is coordinating other projects which are – such as the National Nanofabrication Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI) Program. However, $50 million represents just a small piece of the $52 billion CHIPs Act funding, which is itself part of the overarching $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act.

Last year, the NSF rolled out other investments to build up a well-trained semiconductor manufacturing workforce in the US. This included a $10 million partnership with Intel, another $10 million partnership with memory maker Micron, plus a memorandum of understanding with the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC) to support hands-on research opportunities for undergraduate students. ®

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