NIST Unveils Vision and Strategy for National Semiconductor Tech Center

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The center will support semiconductor research and development efforts to advance U.S. competitiveness.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has plans for an “ambitious” effort to advance American semiconductor research and development, according to a paper outlining the agency’s vision and strategy for the National Semiconductor Technology Center.

Tuesday’s paper provides an overview for how the agency will accelerate the U.S.’s ability to develop microchips and related technologies that will advance American technology leadership. The center is an important aspect of the research and development component of the CHIPS and Science Act. Specifically, Congress appropriated funds to develop the center to support and expand American semiconductor research, design, engineering and manufacturing. 

The paper details the planned mission, programs and other features of the center. For example, the center will develop and sponsor research programs and work with academic and industry partners to establish affiliated technical centers around the country as a research and innovation network.

“The NSTC will be an ambitious public-private consortium where government, industry, customers, suppliers, educational institutions, entrepreneurs and investors will come together to innovate, connect and solve problems,” Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said in the press release. “Most importantly, the NSTC will ensure that the U.S. leads the way in the next generation of semiconductor technologies which can enable major new advances in areas that will advance our economic and national security. While the manufacturing incentives of the CHIPS Act will bring semiconductor manufacturing back to the U.S., a robust R&D ecosystem led by the NSTC will keep it here.” 

The center’s programs are aimed at helping the entire semiconductor ecosystem meet the needs of the technology sector, including providing access to emerging materials and process technologies; digital assets and design tools; a chiplet stockpile; and incubation for startups. Moreover, NSTC will give participants the chance to partake in industry grand challenges; road mapping and standards activities; and workforce training and technical exchange programs. 

The NSTC has three goals: expand U.S. leadership in semiconductor technology; decrease the time and cost of moving from design to commercialization; and establish and sustain a semiconductor workforce development system. 

“The National Semiconductor Technology Center is designed to drive innovation and speed the transfer of new technologies to market,” Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Laurie E. Locascio said in the press release. “This center will give the U.S. semiconductor industry an enduring technological lead and help develop a skilled workforce capable of manufacturing the world’s most advanced devices.” 

The center will not only establish a nexus for research, administration and operations, it will also establish technical centers to extend and improve U.S. research facilities or build new, advanced facilities. It will have collaboration from innovators and entrepreneurs, new and established businesses, chipmakers, material and equipment suppliers, educators and trainees to address the challenges of the industry and to provide hands-on experience, training and information sharing.

“The vision and strategy for the National Semiconductor Technology Center is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reclaim the nation’s strategic dominance in the semiconductor industry,” Arizona State University President Michael Crow said in a statement. “This is about more than science. This is about commercial and military superiority for America. It represents a unique opportunity for collaboration that returns the United States to a higher level of digital security.”

According to the announcement, stakeholder feedback emphasized the need to address a large range of issues. As a result, NIST noted it is important for the center to be “viewed throughout the ecosystem as neutral, trusted and science driven.”

“The events of the last several years have illustrated the immediate need to advance semiconductor design and manufacturing research, innovation and workforce development in the United States,” U.S. National Science Foundation Director Sethuraman Panchanathan said in a press release. “The ‘CHIPS and Science Act’ provides critical enablement for NSF and its partners to keep American technology innovation on the cutting edge. The National Semiconductor Technology Center is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a transformative public-private partnership that can lay the groundwork for the invention of future semiconductors, systems and applications impacting nearly every sector of our economy.” 

Raimondo and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will establish the center by creating a public-private consortium as required by the law. NIST stated that federal consortia are often managed by nonprofits, so a new non-profit will likely operate the NSTC consortium.

Furthermore, Commerce will issue a notice in the Federal Register on April 26, for nominations to join a committee to select a board of trustees. The board will form a non-profit that Commerce expects to operate NSTC.

The recent paper follows NIST’s call for public input on the governance of the center in January and industry outlining a strategy for the center in March.