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Press Release

Contact: Chriss Swaney
(412) 268-5776

For immediate release:
March 8, 2001

Carnegie Mellon Awarded $19.4 Million To Lead Consortium On Semiconductor Research

PITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Rob A. Rutenbar will head a national consortium of nine research universities and will oversee the allocation of $19.4 million in research funds to study improvements for semiconductor product design.

Research center funding is coming from the Department of Defense's Advance Research Projects Agency in Washington, D.C. and the California-based Semiconductor Industry Association. Both groups allocated $19.4 million over the next three years to fund various research projects tied to making the U.S. semiconductor industry more competitive. Other consortium members include MIT, Stanford, Princeton, the University of California at Berkley, Cornell, Columbia , the University of Illinois and the University of Washington.

Carnegie Mellon's new Center for Circuits, Systems and Software, housed in the university's Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, will focus on improving circuit design and software used in cellular phones, video games, optical networking, broadband and analog applications.

"Our center work at Carnegie Mellon is all about converting transistors into performance," Rutenbar said. He and his new Center for Circuit Systems and Software are carrying on the tradition of research begun by Bell Lab scientists in 1947 when they discovered how to amplify a whispered "hello" into a loudspeaker shout of "HELLO" by using a tiny device called a transistor.

This midget device, which turns current off and on as it moves over a controlled path within a solid block of semiconductor material, has made a range of products from pocket radios to desk-top computers practical and affordable. Before the transistor, room-sized computers relied on vacuum tubes that often failed. An early transistor, made of germanium crystal and wire, worked only if wiggled properly. But it was 20 times faster than a tube and more reliable.

Carnegie Mellon researchers are charged with designing circuits that will be faster, smaller and cheaper.

In 1997, the Semiconductor Industry Association, in cooperation with members of the U.S. semiconductor and software industry, and the U.S. Department of Defense, launched a new initiative to expand microelectronics research at U.S. universities. This initiative, called the Focus Center Research Program, was structured to support long-range, innovative applied research. The new Center for Circuits, Systems and Software is one of four such centers in the U.S today.

"We want to get to a point where we can get circuit design pared back from a year in production time to 24 hours," Rutenbar said. In addition to boosting production time, Rutenbar also wants his research to help streamline the labor needed to make the next generation of semiconductor circuits.

Sometimes teams of 100 people or more are needed to work on customized semiconductor orders, but Rutenbar said his research may help reduce that number to teams of four or five people for the same job.

Rutenbar's rapid design approach is widely applauded by the semiconductor industry where business leaders such as Intel CEO Craig Barrett and John Kelley, general manager of the IBM Microelectronics Division, are pushing for newer, more economical ways of producing the next wave of semiconductor products.

Last year, industry sales reached $204 billion, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association. Semiconductor demand is driven by the communications revolution in wired and wireless and optical networking. The semiconductor industry employs 284,000 and invests the largest amount of money into research than any other U.S. industry sector.

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