Semiconductor Degrees Program Aims to Train Next Generation of Chipmakers

Purdue University responds to high demand for this critical technology.

(Image courtesy of Purdue University.)

(Image courtesy of Purdue University.)

Over the next half decade, the U.S. economy will need at least 50,000 trained semiconductor engineers to meet the global demand for semiconductors, according to Purdue University. In response to that demand, Purdue has launched a new degree program focused on semiconductors and microelectronics.

The Semiconductor Degrees Program is a set of interdisciplinary degrees and credentials that will be available to undergraduate and graduate students alike.

Purdue University claims the new program has five features that distinguish it from other similar programs. One, the program addresses critical steps in the industry within one interdisciplinary program covering areas including chemicals and materials, tools, design, manufacturing, manufacturing and packaging, as well as supply chain management.

Two, students can pursue a choice in credentials including a Bachelor of Science minor, Master of Science, stackable postgraduate certificates and associate degrees through Purdue’s partner Ivy Tech Community College. The program is meant to be an additional concentration that is open to any engineering student.

Three, the program features residential as well as online programs. Four, the latter are some of the first offerings of this kind that focus on semiconductors.  The programs are delivered through the nanoHUB learning platform, virtual labs, as well as co-op and internship opportunities and design-to-fabrication team projects.

Five, Purdue claims students will benefit from broad industry partnerships such as Cornerstone with the Department of Defense’s Scalable Asymmetric Lifecyle Engagement (SCALE) program, the American Semiconductor Academy (ASA) and other workforce consortia under the federal government’s semiconductor incentive legislation, the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) Act. The Semiconductor Degrees Program will be advised by a board of senior industry executives.

The program was launched in May 2022, at a time of increased awareness of the global economy’s dependence on semiconductors—and its vulnerability to supply chain disruptions such as those caused by the pandemic. Important industries such as automotive and consumer electronics have had to slow or even stop manufacturing their products because there are not enough chips to go around.

“During the pandemic, that’s when we suddenly realized how fragile these supply lines are, how important chips are, and I think we depreciated in some areas with semiconductors technology,” said Mark Lundstrom, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue University, to Journal & Courier. “We’ve fallen behind.”

According to Lundstrom, the multidisciplinary approach of the program will be of particular benefit to students. Semiconductors require not just specialized knowledge, but also an understanding of a broad range of disciplines.

“They need material engineers, chemical engineers, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers and industrial engineers, for all kinds of different reasons. So, there is a need for a broad range of talent, but also some understanding of this technology. For example, how a chemical engineer would apply that information to manufacturing,” he said.

Students will learn about the design and manufacturing of chips themselves, as well as the entire supply chain that supports their production. They will learn the chemical engineering of processing; the mechanical engineering of tool development; the material engineering of new materials for chips and packages; and the industrial engineering of supply chain, logistics and manufacturing optimization. Students will be enabled to customize their plans of study to focus on the specializations that most interest them.

“It is essential for the United States to be a self-sufficient leader in semiconductor technology, which provides the foundation for the modern world and will lead to new innovations in critical industries,” said Arvind Krishna, Chairman and CEO of IBM, in Purdue University’s press release announcing the program. “Purdue University’s new credentials and degrees in microelectronics and semiconductors will help ensure that we have the large, skilled workforce that is needed to power the nation’s semiconductor future.”