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Chip group steps up academic research push

A new center at UCLA joins a university program dedicated to long-range chip research, as an industry group behind the project calls for more government funding.

Citing the value of early-stage research and development in fostering competitive companies, the semiconductor industry is expanding a university program that digs into long-range research.

The Semiconductor Industry Association announced on Tuesday that a fifth member has been added to the Focus Center Research Program and that the research portfolios have grown for the other four members. A new center at the University of California at Los Angeles joins existing program efforts at Carnegie Mellon University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California at Berkeley.

Together, the five centers will work on semiconductor-related projects with researchers from 25 other universities across the United States, according to the SIA, which is a sponsor of the effort. A unit of the Semiconductor Research Corp. industry consortium manages the Focus Center Research Program on behalf of participating companies and government agencies.

The SIA also urged the U.S. government to increase the money it is spending on the program. While industry typically invests its R&D dollars in developing products and manufacturing processes, universities generally perform fundamental, "precompetitive" research, using federal funds. Of the $29 million required to run the program in fiscal 2004, the U.S. government is contributing $10 million; the rest is coming from industry players, according to the semiconductor group.

Government spending will become more necessary, as physical limitations on chipmaking processes begin to hinder technological advances, the SIA said.

"If our society is to continue to enjoy the productivity enhancements and consumer benefits from information technology, Congress needs to add $20 million in funding for fiscal year 2005 to match the industry's $20 million contribution for this university research program," George Scalise, president of the SIA, said in a statement.

In the Focus Center Research Program, each of the five universities will take the lead in a particular area. The center at UCLA will work on nanoscale materials, looking at ways to scale complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology to its ultimate limit and to devise new processing and sensing capabilities. MIT will also work on CMOS technology--but with a focus on nanoscale devices.

The UC Berkley focus center is working on changes required in system design, integration, testing and verification. Georgia Tech will look into the development of electrical, optical and thermal interconnect technology, and Carnegie Mellon will work on circuit techniques and system concepts for future transistor technology.