PCAST Releases Report on Revitalizing the Nation’s Semiconductor Ecosystem, with Investments in a National Research Agenda a Major Component
On the heels of the Chips and Science Act passage into law in July, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a report outlining actions President Biden and the Department of Commerce (DOC) should take to, “maximally leveraging the historic $11 billion commitment appropriated for semiconductor R&D,” in the legislation. PCAST’s recommendation can fit into four broad categories: building a broad coalition, focusing on education and the future workforce, fostering innovation, and setting a national research agenda.
The Chips and Science Act provides funding for the Commerce Department to invest $11 billion over 5 years in semiconductor R&D (there is an additional $39 billion the law appropriates for financial assistance for domestic semiconductor manufacturing). Within that, DOC is to establish a National Semiconductor Technology Center (NSTC) and a National Advanced Packaging Manufacturing Program (NAPMP). Both of these programs figure heavily in the report’s recommendations (particularly 1, 2, 6, 7, and 10).
Of most note to the research community are recommendations 3, 4, 8, and 9 of the report:
3. The Secretary of Commerce in coordination with the Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) should support the establishment of a national microelectronics education and training network by the end of 2023 and allocate funding on the order of $1 billion over the next 5 years to upgrade educational laboratory facilities, support curriculum development, and facilitate hiring of faculty into this field.
4. The Secretary of Commerce should ensure that NSTC-funded research…supports on the order of 2,500 scholarships and research assistantships per year across the educational spectrum.
8. The Secretary of Commerce should ensure that the NSTC founding charter allocates a significant portion of the annual funding, on the order of 30 to 50 percent, to directly fund a national research agenda. This research agenda should be broad in nature and address the following areas: materials, process, and manufacturing technologies; packaging and interconnect technologies; energy-efficient computing and domain-specific accelerators; design automation tools and methods; semiconductor and system security; and semiconductors and life sciences.
9. The NSTC should identify a set of nationwide grand challenges that are enabled through collaboration across the NSTC industrial membership and NSTC-funded research. These grand challenges should span three complementary areas that would benefit from large-scale nationwide collaboration: advanced computing into the zettascale era; significantly reducing design complexity; and proliferating semiconductors in life sciences applications.
The report, in concert with other actions that the Biden Administration has taken, demonstrate that the Biden Administration is moving quickly to implement the Chips and Science Act. But that’s only the “chips” half of the Chips and Science Act; the research policy community here in Washington is working on getting the “science” part of the legislation fulfilled. We are telling Congress to follow through on the research policy provisions of the law and fully fund the research agencies, especially NSF. They can start with the Fiscal Year 2023 budget.