Supply chain disruptions and a strong demand for consumer electronics during the pandemic led to a global chip shortage. The shortage has highlighted the need to strengthen the domestic semiconductor industry and has put a new emphasis on microelectronic engineering education.
But this is not new at RIT.
The university’s connection to the semiconductor industry was established 40 years ago when it launched the first microelectronic engineering degree program in the country. Since then, RIT has graduated more than 1,500 engineers trained to make semiconductor devices.
Even more of those engineers integrate this important technology into next generation devices—from energy efficient products to biomedical sensors—that are enabling artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and advanced biomedical therapies.
“One of the key trends in the semiconductor industry is growth, and a growing concern that current manufacturing facilities cannot keep up with demand,” said Doreen Edwards, dean of RIT’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering. “We’ve all heard about the chip shortage and the desire to bring more semiconductor manufacturing back to the U.S. When this happens, there is going to be a growing need for qualified employees. This is where RIT and the Kate Gleason College can help.”
The first year
The path starts in the first-year microelectronic engineering courses where students learn how to build semiconductors—the brains inside today’s electronics.
They step into a cleanroom environment where semiconductor wafers, some the size of dinner plates, are produced through a complex process of patterning. Each wafer holds multiple small but extremely powerful computer chips that have intricate collections of transistors, wiring, and high-tech sensors.
“You learn the right way to build the semiconductor devices,” said Ankolekar, who came to RIT from Pittsford, N.Y., where he was a 3M Young Scientist Challenge state merit winner. “Computer chips are everywhere, and this class is a good way to see the different applications and how companies are using computer chips.”
Faculty ensure that microelectronic lab work is hands-on from the first day. It is also common for first-year students to interact with doctoral candidates like William Huang, a teaching assistant (TA), who led Ankolekar and his classmates in a semiconductor processing lab.