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Luddy School partnership with NSWC Crane, IEDC to address microelectronics workforce needs

For Immediate Release Jul 13, 2023

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — A new initiative at the Indiana University Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering will give students the opportunity to build and test microelectronics in extreme environments — training them for in-demand jobs while addressing critical defense and space industry needs. The project, “A Workforce Ecosystem for Strategic Radiation Hardening by Design,” is supported by a $5 million grant from NSWC Crane and additional support from the Indiana Economic Development Corp. It will prioritize the development of student talent in Indiana and the Ohio River Valley.

Engineer in Sterile Coverall Holds Microchip with Gloves and Examines it. Students will have the opportunity to build and test microelectronics in extreme environments, creating a pipeline of highly skilled workers that will help strengthen U.S. supply chains. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock

The initiative is part of the Department of Defense’s Scalable Asymmetric Lifecycle Engagement program, which aims to create a workforce pipeline for highly trained microelectronics engineers and experts. A White House review of supply chains found the U.S. share of global semiconductor production dropped from 37 percent in 1990 to 12 percent in 2021, and it’s expected to continue declining without the expansion of domestic talent.

“Because of growing industry need and demand, opportunities for students in the field of microelectronics are staggering,” said Joanna Millunchick, dean of the Luddy School. “Collaborations like this one between our faculty and colleagues at Crane and IEDC are essential to ensuring that Indiana is a leader in such a critical sector. This initiative, combined with our new degree programs in nanotechnology and microelectronics, will prepare our students for in-demand jobs while addressing crucial talent needs of industry and government partners who are ready to hire a highly trained workforce.”

Led by associate professor Daniel Loveless and assistant professor Andrew Lukefahr, both in the Luddy School’s Department of Intelligent Systems Engineering, the initiative will focus on the research and design of microelectronics that can function when exposed to high levels of radiation — including those designed for use in space.

“Electronics in space or defense environments are exposed to extreme conditions that consumer electronics are not exposed to — operation in a vacuum environment or exposure to ionizing radiation that can degrade the performance of electronics materials,” Loveless said. “There is a large risk associated with relying on technology not designed for these extreme conditions.”

In addition to defense applications, radiation-hardened microelectronics are in increased demand because of the success of the commercial space sector.

Loveless and Lukefahr will lead research activities that include the modeling and simulation of radiation effects and the design of radiation-hardened technologies. Performing the tests requires special facilities, so a key aspect of the initiative is training students on how to use the facilities and conduct radiation tests.

In partnership with the IU Center for Exploration of Energy and Matter, researchers will also develop new experimental capabilities and facilities for radiation hardening. They will work with the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs to establish a community of policy and practice to lower the barriers for entry into the field.

“We will have a cohesive, well-rounded program that will bring together the latest technologies and experts in the field to interface with our students,” Lukefahr said.

The initiative will also create a new center at IU that will bring together researchers focusing on the areas of microelectronics and radiation hardening.

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