Building the microelectronics manufacturing blueprint

ASU team receives $1.5M DARPA grant to develop microelectronics domestically

April 18, 2023

Semiconductor manufacturing’s return to the U.S. is a hot topic in light of policy actions such as the national CHIPS and Science Act and Arizona’s New Economy Initiative, which is bringing advanced technology jobs and manufacturing to Arizona.

Along with these policies designed to spur domestic production of microelectronics, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is turning an eye to future needs. Hongbin Yu poses in front of his students conducting research in his lab in the background. Electrical engineering Professor Hongbin Yu leads efforts at ASU for Phase 0 of DARPA’s Next-Generation Microelectronics Manufacturing program. The program aims to develop manufacturing techniques and facilities to produce 3D heterogeneously integrated microelectronics manufacturing systems in the U.S. with help from Deca Technologies, Microchip Technology and Siemens EDA. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU Download Full Image

DARPA launched the Next-Generation Microelectronics Manufacturing, or NGMM, program to develop systems to build new technology known as 3D heterogeneously integrated, or 3DHI, microelectronics in the U.S. 3DHI microelectronics use a new architecture that can improve chip efficiency compared to current 2D and 3D designs. The program is part of DARPA’s larger Electronics Resurgence Initiative 2.0, which aims to make the U.S. a world leader in microelectronics.

Hongbin Yu, a professor of electrical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, leads a team funded by a $1.5 million grant through Phase 0 of the NGMM program — a six-month process in which researchers analyze manufacturing methods and turn their findings into recommendations known as exemplar microsystems. The recommendations aim to find the best way to create both a production facility and explore best practices for developing these microsystems.

“We’re thinking about how we can make the electrical connections reliable and cost effective,” said Yu, a faculty member in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, part of the Fulton Schools. “We’re also looking at aspects of how to simplify the manufacturing process. We have to do it cheaply; if you spend $1 billion to make one 3DHI microsystem device, that doesn’t work.”

DARPA’s ultimate goal is to create a manufacturing facility, or multiple facilities if needed, that will enable industry, government and academia to create prototypes of 3DHI devices on a small scale across the U.S., with the additional aim of improving national security. The program’s later Phase 1 and Phase 2 projects will be active for five years and focus on implementing the methods Yu and his team outline in Phase 0.

Jamie Winterton, senior director of research strategy for ASU’s Global Security Initiative, or GSI, connects faculty members with relevant funding opportunities from the U.S. Department of Defense. She helped connect Yu with the research opportunity and oversaw the team that wrote the research proposal.

Winterton said she believes this project can benefit American microelectronics development in multiple ways.

“Even for prototyping, we rely on facilities in countries that may not have America’s best interests in mind,” she said. “The current process is set up for high-volume manufacturing of existing products, and it’s very challenging to test out new concepts in small batches. By creating a fully domestic, open-access research and development center, we can accelerate innovation in microelectronics and protect national security interests at the same time.”

New ideas for novel microelectronics

3DHI microsystems stack individual computer chips vertically instead of the traditional lateral design, which cuts down on resistance and increases efficiency by making the wires connecting the chips shorter.

Another novel feature of 3DHI systems is the connection of chips made from different material types, such as silicon carbide and gallium nitride, inside of one device. This enables the use of the best material for different applications depending on an individual chip’s purpose, such as processing, memory or radio communications, all assembled in a 3DHI package.

Assisting Yu with the efforts to create a manufacturing blueprint for these 3DHI devices are nine other faculty members from the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, the School of Manufacturing Systems and Networks, the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy and the School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence, all part of the Fulton Schools. Their combined expertise spans the fields of electrical engineering, advanced manufacturing and electronics packaging thermal simulation.

Yu and his team also have graduate students taking part in the project by collecting necessary background information.

Electronics companies Deca TechnologiesSiemens EDA and Microchip Technology are also involved in the NGMM program. For instance, Yu said Deca worked on high-density interconnect technology, a needed part of the 3DHI microsystems, in the past few years, making the company a valuable partner for such an effort.

Problems the team hopes to solve include making the connections between chips in 3DHI devices as fast as possible, properly regulating heat generation, ensuring electrical signal integrity, and maintaining computing power and data rate. All that information will provide significant benefits in supporting industry endeavors to continue to meet and exceed the standards set by Moore’s Law, which has driven the computing industry for more than 50 years.

Advancing Arizona microelectronics

Yu says one of his goals for ASU’s involvement in the NGMM project is to advance the microelectronics sector in Arizona.

“We’re putting together the toolsets and strategies to bring more companies to Arizona and to support existing companies,” he said.

Those involved also aim to engage ASU in more efforts related to the use of microelectronics to strengthen national security.

Kyle Elliott, a GSI proposal manager who helped oversee the proposal process for the NGMM project, said the project is among the first microelectronics programs GSI has been involved in. Considering its mission to address some of the world’s most pressing and sensitive security challenges, he sees Phase 0 as a great start for further collaborations with the Department of Defense.

“Phase 0 projects give you an inside path to the larger DARPA funding, which could be millions of dollars,” Elliott said.

His hope is that through the NGMM program and GSI’s other efforts, Phoenix will become a leading advanced manufacturing hub for the defense sector.

Yu also intends to continue his involvement in NGMM by applying for funding to do work for later phases of the project as well.

Winterton is optimistic that this is a great occasion for ASU researchers to showcase their knowledge and skills.

“We have the opportunity to share our institutional expertise in microelectronics in a way that will directly impact national security,” she said. “Six months is a very short period of time, but this team has the chops to produce some powerful and impactful recommendations for the next phases. I can’t wait to see what they come up with.”

Faculty members from the Fulton Schools involved in the NGMM project include School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence Associate Professor Giulia Pedrielli; School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering Professor Christopher Bailey, Associate Professors Deliang Fan, Jennifer KitchenJae-sun Seo and Georgios Trichopoulos and Assistant Professor Ahmed Alkhateeb; School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy Associate Professor Robert Wang; and School of Manufacturing Systems and Networks Director and Professor Binil Starly.

TJ Triolo

Communications Specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


3rd-generation veteran to lead ASU Office for Veteran and Military Academic Engagement

April 18, 2023

Retired Col. Wanda A. Wright, former director of the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services and a 21-year veteran of the Arizona National Guard, has been named director of Arizona State University’s Office for Veteran and Military Academic Engagement.

She will start June 1 in the office, which is part of the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. Retire Col. Wanda A. Wright portrait in front of partial view of U.S. and Arizona flags Retired Col. Wanda A. Wright, ASU alumna and 21-year veteran of the Arizona National Guard, will join ASU's Office for Veteran and Military Academic Engagement as director and assistant teaching professor. Download Full Image

The director position is focused on promoting dialogue, teaching and research to increase understanding, knowledge and relationships among military, civilian and academic cultures. In addition to her administrative duties, Wright will be one of the lead educators for the college’s growing number of academic programs in veteran and military studies, which include a certificate in veterans, society and service; an associate degree in military studies; and — expected to launch in fall 2023 — a bachelor’s degree in applied military and veterans studies.

“Wright has an impressive track record as a transformational leader, with extensive experience working with stakeholders locally, regionally and nationally to achieve positive outcomes for veterans and their families,” noted Joanna Grabski, dean of the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. “Along the way, she has built and sustained an incredible network of collaborators and contacts in state and national government, veteran service organizations and nonprofits across the U.S., and in media. She’s secured grant funding for important research. She’s also taught at the collegiate level. There’s already tremendous excitement to see how she’ll take the (office) as a national model for second-career success for veterans to new levels of impact."

In January, Wright completed eight years of service as director of the Arizona Department of Veterans' Services. Under her leadership, the department's veteran disability claim approval rates increased from 65% to more than 95% in five years. In that same period, the department increased federal funding from $26 million a month to more than $70 million a month to support veterans with disabilities. 

During her tenure, Wright was elected to serve as president of the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs from 2022 to 2023, working with other state directors and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on issues affecting veterans. 

In 2017, she was appointed to serve on the VA’s Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, and she is still actively serving a third three-year term.

“The committee’s work supported the newly adopted, more inclusive mission statement for the VA that was announced last month,” Wright said. “It reflects the VA’s commitment to serve all veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors. Women are the fastest-growing segment of the veteran population, but so many women don’t feel included in our nation’s veteran narrative.”   

Wright is a Sun Devil alumna, having earned a master's degree in educational leadership in 2016. Wright also holds a master's degree in business administration from Webster University and a master's degree in public administration from the University of Arizona.

A 1985 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Wright began her military career as deputy budget officer with the Tactical Air Command in South Carolina. Wright served with the Arizona National Guard in various positions between 2000 and 2011, finishing out her military service as the director of staff. She is the first African-American woman to attain the rank of colonel in the Arizona National Guard.

‘Transition is something I understand'

Wright joins the college at a time of exciting change, as the college — focused on applied-emphasis degrees and career-connected learning — is transitioning to an organizational structure centered around three new schools.

Change and transition are something Wright, a third-generation veteran, said she understands well.

“My life is a story of transition,” Wright said. “Growing up in a military family, we moved every two years to a new Army post until I graduated from high school. After graduating from the United States Air Force Academy and my commission as an officer, I relocated twice to military assignments at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, South Carolina, in 1985, and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, in 1987. Three years later, I transitioned out of active duty into the Arizona National Guard.”

Wright changed positions, on average, every three years while in the Guard. After retiring from military service in 2011, she transitioned to education, teaching math and serving as vice principal at Montessori Academy in Paradise Valley for four years, until duty called once more when she was tapped by Arizona Gov. Douglas Ducey to lead the Department of Veterans' Services.

“As the College for Integrative Sciences and Arts and the Office for Veteran and Military Academic Engagement move forward, the opportunities to create a new organizational structure and curriculum are limitless,” said Wright, who participated in and supported the early iteration of the office's current Treks for Vets program. “I want to be a part of this transition. To be part of growing the field of veteran studies. To be a national model for second-career success for veterans is an especially exciting opportunity.”

Outgoing office Director Manuel Avilés-Santiago, who also is the college's associate dean for academic programs and curricular innovation, is thrilled about Wright’s new position.

"Col. Wright's comprehensive understanding of the assets, needs, areas of opportunities and stories of Arizona's veterans will be critical to the success of the Office for Veteran and Military Academic Engagement and the impact it will have, not only at ASU and in the community but nationwide. We want to bridge the military-civilian gap through teaching, research and programming, and CISA found in Wanda Wright the ideal engineer to help us design and build that bridge,” he said.

Wright said it feels like she’s found just the right position at just the right time.

“I had been looking for a position in education where I could continue to serve veterans,” she said. “This position is the perfect fit for me as I continue my work with veterans, in an academic environment, utilizing my master’s in educational leadership degree from ASU. There are so many opportunities to continue to expand courses available, to ensure students understand the wide and deep extent to which they can impact the lives of veterans and their families, and gain an understanding of veteran and military history, structure, systems and policies,” she said. “I am so excited to work in such an innovative educational space with fantastic ASU staff and faculty.”   

Maureen Roen

Director of Communications, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts