UTD has opened the North Texas Semiconductor Institute (NTxSI), which will provide job support for students in preparation for the fastest growing industry in DFW.
Semiconductors are one of the most valuable commodities in the modern world. These materials are fabricated into transistors and integrated circuits, producing technology required for smartphones, laptops and automobiles. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a global shortage of semiconductors produced problems for the technology supply chain.
Congress provided $3 million for NTxSI from the Consolidated Appropriations Act to help provide infrastructure in both the semiconductor industry and academia. Congress representative Collin Allred, who supported and presented the project with legislation, put forth in his 2023 funding requests that the NTxSI will implement the North Texas Semiconductor Workforce Development Consortium to prepare qualified workers siphoned from NTxSI to address the semiconductor shortage. Joseph Pancrazio, vice president for research and innovation at UTD, believes that the NTxSI, while developed by UTD, will be an active consortium partnering with community colleges to help students succeed.
“We’re looking at a variety of different opportunities,” Pancrazio said. “It could be certificate program offerings that will better prepare our bachelor’s level students in particular for positions within the semiconductor industry, which are typically high paying and come with significant benefits. It could be for minors that would be part of a degree program.”
According to NTxSI, 5,000 new jobs in the semiconductor manufacturing industry are expected to be created in North Texas in the next few years, and from each job made, approximately 5.67 more jobs will be made in response. These positions will include equipment technicians, process engineers, designers and plant operators. UTD wants to prepare students for these new positions by training them in with both research and workforce experience through internships and personalized training.
This mission will start with the Center for Harsh Environment Semiconductors and Systems (CHESS), directed by Manuel Quevedo-Lopez, which will produce devices that can withstand extreme temperatures, radiation and extreme mechanical conditions. Applications for these semiconductors include national defense systems, quantum computing, networks and communication systems, better electrical grids, autonomous vehicles, space exploration and hypersonic weapons. Quevedo-Lopez believes that students wanting to make a change will be attracted to CHESS.
“It will provide specific and unique facilities infrastructure for the students to learn, not just the regular semiconductor manufacturing or regular semiconductor processing characterization, but unique skills,” Quevedo-Lopez said. “We obviously want to have students engaged, right? So the student [will] run research. So the graduate student will be engaged here and obviously we are relying a lot on the graduate students to also help us with some aspects of the research.”
CHESS is currently evaluating gallium nitride in radioactive environments, which is key for developing aerospace applications. They are also developing more efficient pogo pins, which are frail instruments necessary for creating semiconductors, as well as working with the Department of Homeland Security to develop sensors for radiation detectors. Another project currently in development with Texas Instruments and Cerfe Labs is creating memory more resistant to harsh temperatures, up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
The NTxSI is expected to develop quickly as a leader in providing talented workers during the ongoing global semiconductor shortage that started because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 169 industries, including automobiles, computers and medical equipment are being negatively affected in what’s considered a global crisis, as the demand for semiconductors severely overshadows their supply and quality.
Richardson is already home to Texas Instruments, but more companies are interested in coming to the area to meet the growing demand for semiconductor production. Allegro MicroSystems, a global semiconductor leader in power and sensing solutions, will be moving to Richardson IQ to capitalize on the national talent that UTD sponsors.
Quevedo-Lopez hopes that continued support of CHESS will help support pioneering students by leveraging support and opportunities from the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors for America (CHIPS) act.
“This just shows the commitment that Dallas has to prepare our students in the areas that are very important and that will result in high paying jobs … So, it’s not just a strategic investment in research, but also it’s a way for Dallas to provide additional skills, additional training for our students as well,” Quevedo-Lopez said.