UVM partners with GlobalFoundries, Department of Education on new semiconductor lab

Woody Bowe from GlobalFoundries and Matt Gallagher, a lecturer in the University of Vermont's CEMS Electrical and Biomedical Engineering Department, share ribbon-cutting duties Thursday for ​​​​the opening of the new Device Characterization Teaching Lab which features scientific testing and failure analysis equipment donated by Essex Junction-based semiconductor chip manufacturer. Photo by Chris Dissinger/UVM

Vermont Business Magazine An innovative Device Characterization Lab made possible by a partnership between The University of Vermont’s College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (CEMS) and GlobalFoundries (GF) was unveiled Thursday at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on campus.

The only educational semiconductor lab in the state, the new lab heralds an essential phase of the ongoing initiative to prepare students to work in the rapidly expanding field. The facility features a suite of scientific testing and analysis equipment donated by GF.

“Our strategic partnership with GF continues to build on our shared commitment to developing a highly skilled workforce that positions Vermont as a leader in semiconductor development and manufacturing,” said Linda Schadler, dean of CEMS. “This cutting-edge facility is the first of its kind in Vermont and will provide a unique educational experience for our students.”

The seed of the project was planted last fall when the U.S. Department of Education (DoE) awarded UVM $2.6M to develop and implement expanded educational opportunities in semiconductor technology. 

With the funding in place, a team of CEMS faculty members including Jeff Frolick, Matt Gallagher and Tian Xia in Electrical Engineering and Randy Headrick and Matt White in Physics collaborated with their colleagues at GF to design an Undergraduate Certificate in Semiconductor Engineering and Physics (UCSEP) as part of the new enhanced semiconductor curriculum. The 17-credit certificate prioritizes the hands-on experience that the new Device Characterization Lab will provide.

“It's unusual for undergraduate students to be able to get their hands on state-of-the-art probers and parameter analyzers—instruments that would normally be found in an industrial or a research laboratory,” said Gallagher, who has helped coordinate the equipment donation and is teaching the first course in the lab this fall.

The timing of the DoE award coincides with the recent passage of the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 that provides over $50 billion in new funding to boost domestic semiconductor research and manufacturing and ensures a growing demand for workforce development in the field. In addition to addressing a national need—the U.S. produces only about 10% of the world’s supply of semiconductors—the CEMS certificate further dovetails with UVM’s strategic imperative to fulfill its land grant mission, in part by supporting job creation initiatives through corporate partnerships.

“Development in critical areas such as this are foundational to UVM’s identity as a premier research institution,” said Kirk Dombrowski, Vice President of Research at UVM. “Hands-on learning that originates in this lab will be carried forth into the workforce by our students and put to use for employers such as GF, further strengthening our shared positions as leaders in innovation.”

As the basic building blocks for computing and communications devices, semiconductors are embedded into nearly every facet of our modern lives – from automotive and telecommunications technology all the way up to national defense systems. The advancements currently being made in this industry will continue to impact our lives in profound ways—from green energy solutions to advancements in artificial intelligence.

The scientific equipment donated by GF provides students and researchers with the opportunity to conduct semiconductor failure analysis and characterization—the process by which a material’s properties are analyzed and measured.

“GF is honored to donate cutting-edge lab equipment that will give UVM students a first of its kind perspective on the complex process of building semiconductors,” said Ken McAvey, Vice President and General Manager, GF Vermont. “With this significant milestone, our goal is to spark curiosity of the mind and innovative thinking among UVM students while empowering the next generation of innovators. We take great pride in our partnership with UVM and look forward to it continuing the advancement of science and technology while helping to educate our future high-tech workforce that will position Vermont as a leader in semiconductor manufacturing.”

The new lab joins the University’s existing clean room as part of a robust hands-on opportunity for students to learn on the same equipment being used in semiconductor manufacturing facilities known in the industry as fabrication plants, or fabs. A 13-credit graduate-level certificate is also on the horizon beginning in fall 2024 during which students will travel to the GF Vermont facility and have access to their state-of-the-art characterization laboratories.

Couby Ouattara, a senior in the Electrical Engineering program who has advanced through several internship positions at GF over the past three summers, revised his course schedule to gain experience in the new semiconductor lab.

“I know taking these classes will allow me to be more experienced and ready for when I go into the industry,” said Ouattara, who added that his time at GF is likely to continue after graduation as he has recently received an offer of employment from the company.

Following the morning ribbon-cutting ceremony, the UVM Career Center has partnered with GF team members and UVM alumni to host a full afternoon of activities designed to engage students in the company's mission, current programs and developments, open jobs and internships.

A video about the new facility and program can be viewed here: https://go.uvm.edu/gfpartnership

About the University of Vermont

Since 1791, the University of Vermont has worked to move humankind forward. UVM’s strengths align with the most pressing needs of our time: the health of our societies and the health of our environment. Our size—large enough to offer a breadth of ideas, resources, and opportunities, yet intimate enough to enable close faculty-student mentorship across all levels of study—allows us to pursue these interconnected issues through cross-disciplinary research and collaboration. Providing an unparalleled educational experience for our students, and ensuring their success, are at the core of what we do. As one of the nation’s first land grant universities, UVM advances Vermont and the broader society through the discovery and application of new knowledge.

UVM is derived from the Latin Universitas Viridis Montis (in English, University of the Green Mountains).

Source: 10.19.2023. BURLINGTON – UVM