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Blogs - Will we have SiFutures once again?​

                

Will we have SiFutures once again?​

At the beginning of this century the semiconductor manufacturing in the UK was in decline but the CMOS research in the UK universities was still vibrant. At that time there was an EPSRC CMOS fabrication facility in Southampton University and a CMOS Microelectronics Centre in Edinburgh University. The academics working in this area became concerned that the CMOS manufacturing decline will result in axing of the silicon and CMOS research funding with long-term negative impact on the UK. Led by Prof. Anthony O’Neill in 2003 we submited a successful EPSRC network proposal (GR/T07879/01) and SiFutures was created. Key sentences from proposal are more relevant today than 17 years earlier:

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“Silicon technology has had a dramatic impact on the world economy over the past few years and is currently the dominant technology for electronics applications. There is currently no rival to silicon electronics technology and it is predicted to remain the dominant technology for the foreseeable future…A presence in this over-arching technology for one of the leading industrialised nations is considered essential by the farsighted.”

Our goal was to convince the government to sustain the CMOS device and technology research and to keep this vital expertise alive in the UK. We organised town meetings, hired PR consultants, and lobbied relentlessly EPSRC, government bodies and ministers. NMI, ARM and others were on our side. Still we failed spectacular and few years latter CMOS was de-prioritised by EPSRC for funding.

 

We decided that the best strategy to sustaining at least some funding in the CMOS area was to join forces with our design research colleagues in the UK and to change the name. We replaced the un-fundable now ‘Silicon’ with much broader but not so meaningful ‘Electronics’ and SiFutures became eFutures. The new name secured the success of a small network grant in 2010 solely submitted by Professor O’Neill (EP/H048634/1). This allowed us to develop a larger successful eFutureXD proposal (2011, O’Neil, Furber, Hall, Asenov, Woods, EP/I038357/1). At that time, my TCAD company GSS was growing and I was not involved in eFutureXD as much as I would wish. eFutures continues today funded by new EPSRC grant (2019, Woods, O’Neill, EP/L025450/1).

 

Due to the current chip shortages and the eventually shocking realisation that 81% of all chip are manufactured in the Far East (China, Taiwan, Japan and Singapore) some people in the UK government, NMI, and perhaps EPSRC realise these days that the abandonment of CMOS was clearly mistake, as we need to have presence in this area for the future of our economy and security. Today all electronic products and derivatives critically depend on CMOS chips, CMOS technology and CMOS design. Perhaps it is time to proudly resurect SiFutures again? I would love to be involved in a new SiFutures EPSRC network and to contribute to the Renaissance of the CMOS Research in the UK.