Public Release: 

Cornell In Consortium For Faster Circuitry

Cornell University

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Cornell University soon will be putting its electronics expertise to work as part of a national consortium of seven universities chosen to take part in an ambitious national semiconductor research effort. The venture's aim is to develop a new generation of more powerful computer chips by devising new methods to connect microchip components.

The national effort, known as the Focus Center Research Program, will ultimately involve six consortia of universities, supported by industry and government funds, seeking both to pioneer new integrated circuit design and to support the $70 billion-a-year U.S. microchip industry. The first two groups chosen in this effort are the team that includes Cornell and a consortium, coordinated by the University of California at Berkeley and Carnegie Mellon University, that will concentrate on computer chip design.

Cornell's contribution in writing the winning proposal is largely due to the efforts of Joseph Ballantyne, Cornell professor of electrical engineering and director of the Cornell Nanofabrication Facility, and Peter Krusius, professor of electrical engineering and director of the Electronic Packaging Program. Krusius is also director of the Joint Services Electronics Program, a Department of Defense (DOD)-funded program at Cornell. "We wrote the proposal and went to all the meetings," says Krusius, who will coordinate Cornell's efforts in the new research program.

Cornell's partners in the venture are the State University of New York (SUNY)-Albany, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), SUNY-Stony Brook, Georgia Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University.

Cornell's role in the new research effort will be twofold, Krusius says. "We are one of the primary research institutions in the consortium, with seven faculty members from several Cornell departments involved. In addition we will be providing facilities for research." These will include the nanofabrication facility, the packaging facility and the Duffield Hall research facility. Krusius adds that an indirect role will be to take part in efforts to attract new industry to New York state, using the research effort as a foundation.

As part of the state government's effort in the Focus Center program, two research centers will be established at SUNY-Albany and at RPI, partly funded by $5 million annually in New York state research appropriations. The state government has identified 12 possible sites in New York for potential new chip manufacturing plants.

Funding for the Focus Center program nationally will come from the Semiconductor Industry Association, a trade organization; Semi/Sematech, a consortium of U.S. semiconductor suppliers; and the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, part of the DOD. The proposal for the consortium with Cornell requested funding for the research effort of $27 million over three years. Ballantyne anticipates that Cornell will receive about $600,000 in the first year, increasing to about $1 million annually in later years. The funds will provide salaries for students and faculty, as well as pay for equipment and facilities.

Cornell's contribution will be primarily in the areas of photonics (using light waves to communicate on and between chips) and novel approaches for distributing information. The primary purpose, Ballantyne says, is to do fundamental, long-range research to develop new ways of communication among the hundreds of millions of transistors on future generations of computer chips. "The prodigious rates at which information must be distributed around those future chips pose fundamental limitations on the extension of current technology, which relies on many miles of extremely fine metal wires to carry electrical signals among transistors," he says. "New technologies for communicating on a chip will be developed in the center."

Says Krusius: "Industry is embarking on a big experiment in saying to researchers, 'here is the challenge, you tell us what is needed to solve it.' To solve a problem like this you require a distributed nationwide center. Novel, long-term solutions will emerge."

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