A New Era of Microelectronics Innovation

Recognizing the significant impact that microelectronics has on lives today, it is essential to ensure that this vital technology is prepared for the future.

FREMONT, CA: Microelectronic devices are essential to nearly every aspect of lives, from running a small business to driving the global economy, from monitoring personal health to combating a pandemic, and from delivering electricity to homes to securing the nation's infrastructure.

Microelectronics consists of computer chips, power electronics such as those used to regulate electricity, and other small semiconductor devices. Since the middle of the 20th century, the size, cost, performance, and energy efficiency of microelectronic devices have rapidly decreased, transforming the world in a short time. However, these transformative devices now face technical and economic obstacles that necessitate the development of innovations. This second revolution in microelectronics will incorporate new physical and computational science knowledge.

U.S. Department of Energy Office and DOE national laboratories have collaborated with the industry for decades to develop and demonstrate scientific advancements in microelectronics. In addition, the Office of Science operates numerous scientific user facilities accessible to the research community that relies on various microelectronic devices, such as sensitive particle detectors, sophisticated microscopes, intense X-ray and neutron sources, data center networks, and high-performance computers.

As a result, the Office of Science created a microelectronics initiative to foster innovation in the U.S. as the foundation for future domestic technological development and manufacturing. Microelectronics projects funded by the Office of Science will support ever-more-powerful supercomputing capabilities, investigate new materials and fabrication methods, foster advanced computing architectures, and stimulate research and development for various microelectronics crucial to the DOE's missions of scientific discovery, energy efficiency, and national security.

The semiconductor industry has routinely reduced the size of transistors from micrometers to nanometers since the 1970s. Due in part to miniaturization, the smartphone in a pocket is more powerful than supercomputers were fifty years ago. Moore's law states that every 18 months or so, chip manufacturers pack in twice as many transistors. However, as transistors approach the size of atoms, the complex laws of quantum mechanics render Moore's law for classical computing invalid.

The difficulty extends beyond the size of transistors. Most modern computer processors are based on the 70-year-old von Neumann model, named after its creator. In this model, the processing unit is separate but connected to a memory unit, necessitating the exchange of instructions from the processing unit and data from the memory unit during computation.

Supercomputing and data centers necessitate constructing expensive power and cooling infrastructures. This extended data transfer consumes energy and generates heat, a phenomenon known as the von Neumann bottleneck. Memory access and capacity, as well as other data bottlenecks, are frustrating obstacles to scientific discovery for scientists who wish to analyze large amounts of data in real-time during experiments.