Qinru Qiu, professor of electrical engineering and computer science in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, has been named a Distinguished Member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the world’s largest and most prestigious association of computing professionals. Qiu…
Memory Fab Future in CNY: ‘Chips Are at the Heart of All Digital Devices’ Says ECS Professor
The semiconductor: it’s a piece of technology we often hear and read about as being high in demand and low in production since the COVID-19 pandemic began. But do people truly understand what they are and how vital they are to the digital devices we use every day?
Micron Technology plans to build a semiconductor fabrication facility in Central New York over the next 20 years, investing up to $100 billion to construct the megafab factories. Those megafabs are actually tiny computer chips that help various devices like cell phones, computers, cars and washing machines hold electronic memory to carry out their functions.
Shui-Kai Chin, electrical engineering and computer science professor in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, answers five questions about the semiconductor manufacturing process and why it’s especially significant to have them produced here in Central New York.
Q: Can you talk about the importance of semiconductor memory? What technology uses these sorts of chips?
A: The only things that are real in cyberspace are people and hardware. Chips are the electronic DNA of cyberspace. The ability to store information, i.e., remember, is at the heart of computing. From simple math to artificial intelligence, memory is key.
If you’ve seen something before and can remember it, you will react and compute faster. If you learn (remember) from experience, you make better decisions. Memory, and knowing what to remember and what to ignore, is what makes people and machine smart. It is a keystone of adaptability and resilience.
Q: What is the significance of bringing another manufacturing operation online in the U.S., specifically in the Central New York region?
A: It’s hugely significant. Central New York will now have what we call a vertically integrated capability from hardware up through and including major systems such as radars, medical devices, and weapon systems that defend the U.S.
Within Central New York, we will have the capability to design and produce the core components of every digital system, starting from the transistors that make up chips, the software which runs on chips, the networks that connect them, and the perspective gained from over 60 years of experience designing major systems for the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy. We have the engineering and public policy expertise to make sure that the right systems are being built and that they are being built right.
Q: What do you think engineers will be doing over the next 18 months to get this operation up and running?
A: Semiconductor processing plants are intricate and require precisely calibrated environments. For example, the chemical content of water must be precisely controlled to prevent impurities from being introduced. The air circulating in the processing facilities must be precisely controlled to make sure there are very few dust particles in the air that can ruin a chip.
I imagine engineers will be looking at the operational requirements for the facility and deciding how best to use the actual site. The logistics of moving and sequencing building materials and construction alone is a huge task. Fortunately, all these things have been done before.
Q: What will be the biggest impact for domestic and international consumers once this new operation is fully running?
A: Memory is used everywhere. Memory prices and availability affect all portions of the supply chain. The facility should help ease the chip shortages once it’s up and running. It also helps secure the supply chain for the U.S., which is important in building systems that can be secured from hardware on up.
Q: What do you see as the most significant point of a new semiconductor manufacturing operation?
A: The only things that are real in cyberspace are hardware and people. To be an exceptional, we must be able to do more than move money around. We need to build exceptional things that benefit society through innovation. Chips are at the heart of all digital devices. The people we have in Central New York are already excellent in terms of what we can do. Adding chip making to the mix makes us even better. Our foundation for innovation has just doubled.