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Who is training the High Priests of Silicon for the future?

Knowledge is power. In ancient Egypt the priests trained in astronomy were able to predict the flooding of the Nile that fertilises the land, and by using this knowledge they controlled the people of Egypt.

The most important knowledge these days is how to design and manufacture the silicon chips that fuel the internet, Google, Facebook, Netflix, Amazon... But who is training the High Priests of Silicon for the future that will be controlling our lives?

From first sight everything is fine. According to the American institute of physics <> the number of graduates in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) in US and in Europe is growing, not as fast as in China but still growing.


So, why I am concerned? Because there is very little education and research these days in semiconductors and in CMOS left in the STEM subjects in our western countries. No hard statistic is available, but there is a lot of evidence. This is what I know based on my 30 years of university teaching and research in semiconductors and CMOS at the University of Glasgow:

The amount of semiconductor teaching in the Electronic and Electrical Engineering (EEE) degrees has been dramatically reduced over the last three decades. I used to teach to our EEE students a two-semester semiconductor course in the third year and a two-semester power electronic devices course in the fourth year thirty years ago. Today only one semester semiconductor course remains from all this.

At the end of the first decade of this century the NSF in US deprioritised the research in the CMOS area. They decided that this is now only a priority for the chip manufacturers. As a result, my bright colleagues in US working in the field of CMOS had to move to fashionable and fundable but less consequential research areas. The PhD students and postdocs trained in CMOS technology and design plummeted.

EPSFC in the UK followed suit. At that time, I had 15 postdocs and 15 PhD students working on CMOS modelling and simulations. The only solution for me was to start Gold Standard Simulations (GSS) to allow them to continue working in Scotland. The acquisition of GSS by Synopsys has created a 30 strong TCAD R&D division in Glasgow. Unfortunately in the rest of the UK the PDRAs and the PhD students trained in the CMOS area practically disappeared.

These days, due to the widely publicised shortage of silicon chip the people of our countries start to understand the importance of the CMOS technology and manufacturing. I see initial signs that the governments in the US and in Europe (an I mean also UK, because although out of EU we are still in Europe) are waking up to the importance of CMOS manufacturing, but much more has to be done to create the next generation of High Priests of Silicon in the Western World.

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