While lectures and textbooks provide the educational foundation for university students, lab sessions with tools used in industry deliver the real-world experience that’s needed in the workforce. The current global chip shortage has garnered headlines, and a key component of this is an engineering talent shortage. Ajit Manocha, president and CEO of SEMI, noted in an EETimes Europe article, “We can probably deal with all the factors that come in our way, and we can probably learn how to deal with natural disasters like a pandemic. But the chip shortage and the growth of the industry will get further hampered if we don’t solve the talent problem.”
Promoting science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education from elementary school up through the university level will be a key part of the effort to nurture new engineering talent. At Synopsys, this sentiment is realized through the Electronic Design University Program, which provides participants with electronic design automation (EDA) software, technical support, curriculum, and more.
By building a close, collaborative relationship with universities around the world, Synopsys aims to support the next generation of engineers as well as research into novel technologies. For examples of the impact that the program is making, we can look at the engineering programs at two Bay Area schools: San Jose State University and San Francisco State University. Students here are gaining valuable, practical experience researching and exploring advanced and emerging technologies using various tool flows, while graduate-level peers and alumni provide mentoring and avenues to internships and full-time jobs. Graduates of both schools are in demand by leading Silicon Valley companies.
In this blog post, we’ll highlight how these universities are working with Synopsys to prepare engineering students to tackle an array of semiconductor design and verification challenges in the work world.
Dr. Hiu-Yung Wong, an assistant professor and Silicon Valley AMDT Endowed Chair in electrical engineering at the San Jose State University (SJSU) Multi-Physics and Circuit (M-PAC) Lab, became familiar with Synopsys solutions while he was earning his Ph.D. at UC Berkeley. A few years after he received his doctorate degree, Wong joined Synopsys as a Technology Computer-Aided Design (TCAD) senior staff applications engineer, where he further increased his expertise using the tools and his understanding of how they could help address customers’ various challenges.
Today, things have come full circle, as Wong uses Synopsys Sentaurus TCAD simulators in research and in the classroom. “Sentaurus process and device simulators can be used to model a lot of experiments pertaining to radiation hardening, such as how electronics perform in space, before committing to expensive and time-consuming radiation testing of chips and components. Here, we use the tool to study radiation effects on FinFET and nanowire SRAM,” said Wong.
He and his advanced integrated device students also use the TCAD tools to explore emerging materials for the semiconductor industry. Materials like silicon carbide and gallium nitride are very expensive and difficult to manage in a regular fab. Electrical simulation and process simulation using the Synopsys tools present a better option for learning. “It’s OK to fail because it costs virtually nothing compared to examining these materials in an actual fab,” said Wong.
Over the past three years, Wong and his students have published 32 conference and journal papers featuring research using Sentaurus TCAD technologies. A few topics to note include using TCAD technologies to generate data for machine learning and for computation-intensive 3D SRAM simulation and challenging wide-band gap power electronic simulations.
With his experience working at Synopsys as well as other chip companies, Wong brings to his students a keen understanding of what makes a successful engineer and what types of advanced technologies are important in the industry. “I think the type of relationship we have with Synopsys is very important,” he said. “While our students learn from using the TCAD tools, we also contribute our educational perspectives.”
Dr. Hamid Mahmoodi is a professor of electrical and computer engineering in the School of Engineering at San Francisco State University (SFSU). He began working with Synopsys in 2010 via a grant that included hardware support and licenses to EDA tools, which have been incorporated in various undergraduate-level and graduate-level VLSI and circuit design courses, as well as a research program.
“Any course I teach has a project component which is hands on,” Mahmoodi said. “Without using Synopsys EDA solutions as industry-standard tools, it’s almost impossible to train students for jobs in this field. The real learning happens by doing; otherwise, the learning wouldn’t be deep or useful without hands-on activity. There are some open-source, fragmented tools, but when you consider modern, complex design and verification flows, we need many tools working together along with advanced process design kits. Synopsys’ comprehensive tools and libraries allow students to gain experience as engineers do in industry. This well serves our mission of producing industry-ready engineers.”
The research program at the university’s School of Engineering examines various topics, from low-power, high-performance chip designs to hardware security. Through a collaborative effort, Mahmoodi and his students have successfully taped out a RISC-V processor chip and a security chip using Synopsys EDA tools on TSMC’s 65nm process. “Another way students benefit from our research program is they choose independent applied research topics that utilize various Synopsys EDA tools for design or verification. These hands-on experiences using the Synopsys tool flows give our students experience and skills necessary for jobs.”
SFSU also has launched a blended BS+MS program, providing domestic undergraduate students an accelerated path to complete their bachelor’s and master’s degrees. “Investment in and demand now for semiconductors have created an increased job market for chip design and related jobs,” said Mahmoodi. “In the past, after graduation, students might spend another semester prepping their resumes and conducting their job search. Now, it’s more common for students to have to hurry up and graduate because they already have a job lined up.”
In an opinion piece published in December in the Mercury News, Tsu-Jae King Liu, the dean of UC Berkeley’s College of Engineering, noted of the semiconductor industry, “If our country is to regain our leadership in this area, we need to double the number of students trained in microelectronics graduating today from all U.S. colleges and universities.” As exemplified by the examples from SJSU and SFSU, collaborative programs between universities and business can provide the real-world experiences, resources, and connections that can turn engineering students into engineers who are making their mark on the semiconductor world.
Get more details about Synopsys’ support of colleges and universities by reading “Providing University Students with Real-World Chip Design Experience.” Keep up in touch with our University Program team.