The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has signed a cooperative research and development agreement with Google to develop and produce chips that researchers can use to develop new nanotechnology devices and semiconductors.
The chips will be made by SkyWater Technology at its semiconductor foundry in Bloomington, Minnesota. Google will pay the initial cost of setting up production and subsidize the first production run. NIST, in conjunction with university research partners, will design the circuitry for the chips. Circuit designs will be open source, allowing academic researchers and small businesses to use the chips without restriction or licensing fees.
Large companies that design and manufacture semiconductors often have easy access to these types of chips. But the cost can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is a major barrier to innovation by academic and start-up researchers. By ramping up production to achieve economies of scale and implementing a legal framework that eliminates licensing fees, the collaboration should significantly reduce the cost of these chips.
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“By creating a new affordable national supply of chips for research and development, this collaboration aims to unlock the innovation potential of researchers and startups across the country,” said Laurie E. Locascio, Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and Director of NIST. This collaboration was planned before the recent passage of the CHIPS Act, but, said Locascio, “It’s a great example of how government, industry and academic researchers can work together to build leadership.” of the United States in this critically important industry. »
Modern microelectronic devices are made up of components stacked like layers in a cake, with the bottom layer being a semiconductor chip. The NIST/Google collaboration will provide a bottom-layer chip with specialized structures to measure and test the performance of the components placed above, including new types of memory devices, nanosensors, bioelectronics and advanced devices needed artificial intelligence and quantum computing.
NIST plans to design up to 40 different chips optimized for different applications. Because chip designs will be open source, researchers will be able to pursue new ideas without restriction and freely share data and device designs.
“Google has a long history of open-source leadership,” said Will Grannis, CEO of Google Public Sector. “Moving to an open source framework promotes reproducibility, which helps researchers at public and private institutions to iterate on the work of others. It also democratizes innovation in nanotechnology and semiconductor research. »
The SkyWater Foundry will produce the chips as 200 millimeter discs of patterned silicon, called wafers, which universities and other buyers can cut into thousands of individual chips at their own processing facilities.
The 200mm wafer is an industry standard size compatible with manufacturing robots at most semiconductor foundries. Giving researchers access to chips in this format will allow them to prototype emerging designs and technologies that, if successful, can be brought into production more quickly, accelerating technology transfer from lab to market.
Research partners contributing to the design of the chips include the University of Michigan, University of Maryland, George Washington University, Brown University and Carnegie Mellon University.
NIST will host a virtual workshop September 20-21, 2022 on the use of chips for measurement science and prototyping. The workshop will include a working group meeting on the collaborative research and development agreement between NIST and Google that will be open to public participation. Registration information and instructions are available on the NIST website.
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