Rochester Institute of Technology is expected to receive $2 million in federal funds to update and expand its Semiconductor Fabrication Lab. The funds will help advance research and prepare the workforce for a growing domestic microelectronics manufacturing industry, officials say.
RIT’s existing cleanroom was originally built to support the microelectronic engineering program in the 1980s. At that time, the program was the first of its kind. Now, the cleanroom serves as a teaching and research lab, a testing facility for corporate partners, and a resource for workforce development training.
“With the demand for computer chips outpacing the supply in the U.S., we must have the laboratory facilities that will produce the skilled graduates needed to fuel this critical industry,”says RIT President David Munson Jr. “Upgrading our teaching facility will further strengthen New York’s position as a national leader in the semiconductor manufacturing industry.”
The RIT lab supports undergraduate and graduate programs in microelectronic engineering, microsystems and related disciplines. It also offers affiliates in the semiconductor and microsystems industries with applied solutions in microdevice design, process development, microsystem integration and prototype fabrication.
Typically, RIT researchers use the facility for research in photonics, quantum chip development, microfluidic devices, LEDs, solar cells, and nanomembranes. The cleanroom will continue supporting coursework in fabrication techniques, such as CMOS processing—a chip fabrication process—and in preparing students for careers. Early-stage companies are expected to use the facility to develop new products as well.
The funds from the U.S. Department of Commerce were secured by Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Joseph Morelle. The money was included as part of the fiscal year 2023 omnibus funding package.
“As majority leader, I have made it my priority to bolster U.S. semiconductor manufacturing to grow jobs upstate, ensure our competitiveness worldwide, and protect our national security,” Schumer says. “I’m proud to secure this funding for RIT so they can continue to contribute cutting-edge research to the industry, while also developing our nation’s next generation of high-quality engineering talent right here in Rochester.”
Gillibrand and Morelle also expressed their support for RIT and Rochester, and highlighted the economic opportunity.
“This will create jobs and grow our economy here in Rochester, and strengthen American competitiveness on the world stage,” Morelle says. “I congratulate RIT on this award and look forward to our continued work together to further cement Rochester’s place at the forefront of high-tech advancement.”
Though the silicon chip was invented in the United States, it is not the world’s biggest supplier. Asia has become the focal point of global production. The CHIPS and Science Act is an attempt to change that, by boosting research and production across the nation.
In the last year, New York has been working to secure a stronger foothold in semiconductor research and development to augment domestic microelectronics manufacturing. Last year, the state attracted investments from Micron and Edwards Vacuum.
Semiconductors support new technologies like artificial intelligence and integrated photonics. In turn, these technologies have numerous applications in fields like health care, transportation, manufacturing and defense.