FAIRBORN — Wright State University has won an Air Force contract worth nearly $30 million designed to train a new generation of undergraduates to develop microelectronic devices and systems.
The project is overseen by the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Wright State leads a team of six Ohio academic institutions, including the University of Akron, Youngstown State, Ohio University, the University of Toledo and Lorain County Community College in creating a pipeline for this new workforce.
The contract, titled Assured Digital Microelectronics Education & Training Ecosystem (ADMETE), is worth more than $29.75 million for three years, with $9 million released in the first year.
The contract was awarded in early September and seeks to develop a pipeline of trained undergraduate engineering students with the skills to design and develop digital microelectronic devices and systems, according to a statement by the university.
The contract also expands the ongoing research and development of innovative, assured and trusted microelectronics technologies being conducted at Wright State, Youngstown State and the University of Akron. Other academic institutions may become a part of ADMETE as the program grows.
According to the Department of Defense, commercial state-of-the-art foundries for defense-related, application-specific integrated circuit development may not meet security and trusted computing requirements. The Air Force is working to ensure that microelectronics systems from commercial foundries are secure and reliable for military use. Meeting the demand requires a workforce of digital design engineers with expertise in microelectronic systems, and the Air Force says current academic programs across the country are not enough to meet this need.
Vance Saunders, director of Wright State’s cybersecurity program in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, manages the project at Wright State.
“No one has been putting the infrastructure in place to take the results of all this research and train the next-generation workforce in how to use it,” said Saunders. “These computer chips provide the processing power for everything we’re doing in technology right now. Most of them are manufactured outside the United States, and we don’t have the infrastructure to manufacture them all ourselves. We need to be able to assess the trustworthiness of this hardware.”
To populate the pipeline, the Air Force plans to forge close partnerships between institutions of higher education and regional employers.
“There is a lot of work to do,” said Saunders. “And there will be a lot of involvement with government and industry.”
The goal is to create a system in which graduating high school seniors would be able to take courses at technical schools, two- and four-year colleges, work as interns with local businesses, and have it all count toward a degree in digital electronics design and development. The program would likely be part of an electrical engineering, computer engineering or related degree.
The funding will be used to hire faculty with expertise in microelectronics, develop a curriculum exciting to students, create new lab spaces and also conduct research into trustworthy microelectronics solutions.
Saunders emphasized the need to reach out to current high school students as well.
“We need to be screaming about this to every high school student in the state, letting them know about the fun and exciting opportunities in the field of digital microelectronics,” he said.
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