Cornell, partners to supercharge NYS microchip industry

A consortium organized by Cornell and four other New York-based leaders in semiconductor research and development has been awarded $40 million by the U.S. Department of Defense to advance microelectronics innovation and manufacturing.

The award establishes NORDTECH – the Northeast Regional Defense Technology Hub – as part of the Defense Department’s Microelectronics Commons, a national network of eight regional innovation hubs dedicated to expanding the United States’ global leadership in microelectronics.

The five founding members of the hub are Cornell; the New York Center for Research, Economic Advancement, Technology, Engineering and Science (NY CREATES); the University at Albany College of Nanotechnology, Science, and Engineering (CNSE); Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI); and IBM.

“It took a tremendous amount of teamwork by research leaders from academic institutions and companies across the Northeast to create a hub that connects and amplifies our collective strengths,” President Martha E. Pollack said. “We deeply appreciate Sen. Charles Schumer’s leadership, as well as the support of members of the New York congressional delegation, Gov. Kathy Hochul, and our state and local representatives. Their vision and dedication have made this transformational investment possible.”

NORDTECH will address a common challenge in microchip development: the so-called “lab-to-fab (fabrication) transition,” during which innovators must overcome technical and financial hurdles to translate laboratory discoveries into designs that can be scaled up for mass production in foundries, or fabs.

To speed the transition, NORDTECH will bring together technical processes from participating organizations, uniting capabilities that in today’s global microchip industry are typically dispersed geographically and organizationally.

“Cornell faculty and staff across colleges and offices collaborated with each other, as well as across several NORDTECH proposal partners in industry and other universities, to help anchor a strong hub proposal for New York state and the region,” said Krystyn J. Van Vliet, vice president for research and innovation.

“Just as I was impressed by this commitment to team science in the interest of national research and workforce development needs,” she said, “I look forward to Cornell’s cooperative impact in literally growing this next generation of material and device prototyping leaders in quantum tech, AI hardware and more.”

NORDTECH and the Microelectronics Commons program represent some of the first federal money spent under the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022. The omnibus spending package aims to increase the competitiveness of the domestic microchip industry, reduce U.S. reliance on foreign microchip producers and safeguard the nation from supply-chain risks. The legislation was championed by Schumer (D-New York), the Senate majority leader, who wrote and co-sponsored portions of the act.

NORDTECH will facilitate coordinated, collaborative research and workforce development programs among more than 50 members, including universities and businesses, most of them based in New York state. Van Vliet, who represents Cornell on the hub’s governance committee, said NORDTECH is planning ways to involve more organizations.

The initial $40 million award will build the hub’s human and technological infrastructure, enabling Cornell and other NORDTECH sites to enhance prototyping capabilities. The Cornell NanoScale Science and Technology Facility (CNF) is one of the prototyping facilities participating in the hub.

After new capabilities and processes are established, there will be more opportunities for further funding through the Defense Department’s multiple cycles of calls for technical projects and workforce development activities.

Faculty members who contributed to or led technical proposals include:

In advanced materials: Judy Cha, Ph.D. ’09, professor of materials science and engineering and the Lester B. Knight Director of CNF; Darrell Schlom, the Tisch University Professor in Materials Science and Engineering; and Chris Ober, the Francis Norwood Bard Professor of Metallurgical Engineering in Cornell Engineering;

In quantum technologies: Greg Fuchs, professor in applied and engineering physics; Valla Fatemi, assistant professor in applied and engineering physics; and Karan Mehta, assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering; and

In hardware for artificial intelligence: José Martínez, the Lee Teng-hui Professor of Engineering in electrical and computer engineering, and Christopher Batten, professor in electrical and computer engineering.

NORDTECH is currently participating in the Defense Department’s first national call for projects via the Microelectronics Commons Hubs.

J. Edward Anthony is a writer for the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation.

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Kaitlyn Serrao