9 August 2023
Arkansas begins construction of US national Multi-User Silicon Carbide Research and Fabrication Facility
The University of Arkansas (U of A) has begun construction of the US national Multi-User Silicon Carbide Research and Fabrication Facility (MUSiC). Capable of silicon or silicon carbide chip fabrication, the new semiconductor research and fabrication facility will enable the government, businesses of all sizes, and universities to prototype in silicon carbide, introducing a capability that does not presently exist in the USA.
The unique facility will offer low-volume prototyping for high-volume manufacturing, bridging the gap between traditional university research and the needs of private industry. The aim is to accelerate both workforce development and technological advancement in semiconductors by providing a single location where chips can go from developmental research to prototyping, testing and fabrication.
Picture: Artist’s rendering of the national Multi-User Silicon Carbide Research and Fabrication Facility (MUSiC).
With MUSiC, the university could “begin training the next generation at a variety of degree levels to provide well-trained and educated talent for onshoring semiconductor manufacturing that domestic suppliers offshored in the late 90s and early 2000s,” says principal investigator Alan Mantooth, Distinguished Professor of electrical engineering. “Our training will be equally applicable to silicon and silicon carbide and other materials.”
Construction coincides with the CHIPS America Summit on 17 August, an invitation-only event for research, industry and governmental leaders from across the nation to discuss CHIPS and Science Act semiconductor-related opportunities.
The summit features Adrienne Elrod, director of external & government affairs for the US Department of Commerce’s CHIPS Program Office. US Representative Steve Womack and Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Hugh McDonald are also participating.
Existing and expanding research foundation
In addition to the MUSiC facility, the U of A is also home to the first Energy Frontier Research Center in Arkansas, as part of a team of researchers who received $10.35m from the US Department of Energy. The Center for Manipulation of Atomic Ordering for Manufacturing Semiconductors is dedicated to investigating the formation of atomic orders in semiconductor alloys and their effects on various physical properties. This research program aims to enable reliable, cost-effective and transformative manufacturing of semiconductors.
Researchers at the U of A previously established the MonArk NSF Quantum Foundry to accelerate the development of quantum materials and devices. In collaboration with Montana State University and other member universities, the foundry supports the study of 2D materials — consisting of a single layer of bonded atoms — by aiding researchers and facilitating the exchange of ideas across academia and industry. The project leads the fabrication of 2D material quantum devices and their characterization, using low-temperature electronic transport and optoelectronic techniques.
The U of A reckons that its existing and expanding research foundation means that it’s uniquely positioned to take advantage of the recent CHIPS (Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors) and Science Act, which is providing about $280bn in funding to stimulate domestic research and manufacturing of semiconductors.
As a result of manufacturing and production shortages of essential computer chips during the pandemic, which are overwhelmingly manufactured overseas, the federal government has prioritized the onshoring of this critical technology.