Charging forward with new statewide semiconductor network
A statewide grant will help power a Virginia Tech-led initiative to create a pathway toward a semiconductor network and workforce opportunities.
The Growth and Opportunity for Virginia (GO Virginia) award of $3.3 million will fund the establishment of the Virginia Alliance for Semiconductor Technology (VAST) and the accompanying adult learning program for continuing professional development, Fast Track to Semiconductor Careers, Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced.
“GO Virginia allows us to invest in key projects that address regionally identified opportunities while fostering collaboration for economic growth between the private and public sectors," said Youngkin. "VAST will advance Virginia’s position in some of our most critical industries while leveraging emerging opportunities in semiconductor manufacturing."
Headquartered at the Virginia Tech Research Center — Arlington, VAST will leverage that region’s existing strength as home to about 75 percent of Virginia’s Semiconductor and Other Electronic Component Manufacturing Industry while also leaning into the infrastructure and expertise of partner institutions across the commonwealth. Nodes will be established at George Mason University, the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, Norfolk State University, and community colleges across the state, which will also be intertwined with Virginia Tech, both at the hub in Arlington and at the Blacksburg campus.
“Virginia is a great home for chips, microelectronics, and technology,” said Masoud Agah, who was named VAST’s founding director. “There is a lot we can do regionally, and together we can do a lot more. This alliance leverages our collective strengths and mobilizes partners throughout the state.”
Semiconductors are critical hardware components for computers and electronic devices. Last fall, the United States boosted its efforts to onshore the production of such technology with the CHIPS and Science Act. This included a $52 billion investment to lower the cost of goods, create higher-paying manufacturing jobs, and ensure more of these critical technologies are created domestically.
Formerly known as Virginia Nanotechnology Networked Infrastructure, VAST will capitalize on the CHIPS Act investment by serving as a catalyst for partnership, connecting assets and talent across Virginia toward a shared goal of advancing our semiconductor ecosystem.
“As a co-author of the recently enacted CHIPS and Science Act, I see huge potential for VAST to turbocharge our efforts at the federal level to boost domestic semiconductor manufacturing,” said U.S. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia.
VAST will benefit from partnerships with a range of state and local organizations, including the Virginia Microelectronics Consortium and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. It also will utilize support from industry, which was led by Micron Technology Inc.’s initial monetary commitment and includes companies such as BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman Corp. while giving back through an infusion of talent and innovation. Additional industry company partnerships are anticipated as well.
“This alliance builds on a legacy of ongoing work that the commonwealth and its institutions have done in anticipation of this moment,” said Luke Lester, head of the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “We’re excited by the opportunity to serve Virginia by multiplying those efforts in ways that accelerate innovation and empower its citizens.”
Agah, the Virginia Microelectronics Consortium Professor of Engineering, has been working toward establishing a network that interconnects higher education institutions and industry partners working in this arena for more than five years.
“Working together, we can create better opportunities for people,” Agah said. “We can really elevate lives.”
Agah’s work exemplifies the exciting, recent success of Virginia Tech in this field. From the semiconductor chip-scale integration major for undergraduate students to the search for low-cost, low-consumption semiconducting materials and the Innovation Campus’ efforts to increasing access to Master of Engineering programs, the university is doing its part to ensure that students are ready to enter the workforce and move the needle on semiconductor development in the commonwealth and beyond.
Virginia Tech was also recently named one of 21 founding member institutions of the Micron-formed Northeast University Semiconductor Network.
Virginia Tech’s leadership will allow the alliance to capitalize on those assets while also providing a platform for teamwork with other top-notch researchers, scholars, and students across Virginia. The collaborative aspects of the alliance include a cloud-based infrastructure that will expedite the sharing of various information, centralized policies to allow uniform governance, and online training modules to more easily equip faculty and staff with new equipment and emerging technology.
While the new alliance will accelerate research and innovation in a revolutionary way, it also will aim to bolster workforce development to help Virginians fill employment gaps in this emerging field. Fast Track to Semiconductor Careers will offer 10-week, certificate-based programs in three subjects: Chip Fabrication and Nano Characterization, Semiconductor Packaging and Characterization, and Semiconductor Equipment Maintenance and Repair.
“We’re bringing all this automated technology to the U.S., but we need humans to build and repair the hardware,” Agah said. “If there is no semiconductor chip, there is no AI.”
VAST expects to enroll about 300 students per year in the accelerated program, with a preference given to veterans and underserved communities, starting in spring 2024. The program aims to train a total of 600 adult learners, award 550 certificates, and create up to 100 internships during the full two-year grant.
A study from the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University estimates that in five years, the program will have produced more than $65 million in economic activity and more than $1 million in state tax revenue.
“Strong university partnerships, strategic programs, and an ongoing talent pipeline are critical to be competitive in recruiting in this industry,” said Jason Koubi, president and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. “VAST will be a distinctive and compelling asset to market as we continue to aggressively pursue this dynamic and growing sector.”
Other agencies across the commonwealth plan to work with VAST to build on the opportunities presented, such as the Vigrinia Innovation Partnership Corporation (VIPC).
“Connecting innovators with opportunity is VIPC’s mission, and we are excited to help catalyze private investment and growth throughout semiconductor, microelectronics, and nanotechnology related sectors and end markets,” said Bob Stolle, president and CEO of VIPC. “We look forward to collaborating with VAST to foster research commercialization and innovation breakthroughs.”
Agah said he was very excited to see Virginia Tech’s vision begin to take shape, and he also believes this is just the first step. In the future, he looks forward to VAST’s potential to extend its impact to a younger generation through K-12 programming, especially in economically disadvantaged areas.
“If five years from now, 10 high schoolers are now going to college because of a pathway created by this program, that’s more fulfilling to me than any research dollar,” Agah said.