A broad coalition of stakeholders gathered at CU Boulder on January 25 to celebrate the state and university’s key roles in sustaining a vibrant semiconductor ecosystem and to discuss how to shape its future.

CU Boulder hosted a first-of-its-kind Colorado Semiconductor Workforce and Innovation Forum last week in partnership with the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT). Leaders in academia, industry and state and federal agencies came together on the CU Boulder campus for a packed afternoon of dynamic discussions around the challenges of, and opportunities for, sustaining and supercharging the state’s robust semiconductor ecosystem—while building workforce.

The importance of collaboration and strategic partnerships was a key theme throughout the forum. Governor Jared Polis told attendees that the gathering of diverse stakeholders showed how important working together is to maintaining and growing the state’s leadership position in the semiconductor industry. 

“In Colorado, innovation is very much in our DNA. Our thriving semiconductor ecosystem, from the research side to the production side to the consumer side makes Colorado a national hub in the semiconductor industry,” he said. “From academia to the private sector to state government, the Colorado semiconductor industry is booming…Colorado’s robust advanced manufacturing ecosystem is truly powering the industries that will shape the future.” 

Colorado is already a semiconductor powerhouse with a well-established footprint in chip R&D and manufacturing. The state ranks fifth in innovation intensity and boasts 19 semiconductor facilities, including 16 leading R&D and design institutions. Several integrated device manufacturers (chip companies that do both design and manufacturing) have chosen Colorado for design and R&D, including Intel, Micron, Western Digital, Analog and Infineon. And the top four ‘fabless’ firms—companies that develop and hold intellectual property and outsource fabrication—AMD, Broadcom, Nvidia and Qualcom, are in-state. 

Leveraging industry and academia partnerships to boost U.S. semiconductor research and development

Massimo Ruzzene

Massimo Ruzzene (Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation)

Nearly every speaker at the conference emphasized the integral role semiconductors play in our daily lives—from powering chips inside smartphones, cars and medical devices—and how critical they will be to emerging technologies like quantum computing and artificial intelligence. Since the nation’s economic and national security relies on domestic chip manufacturing, Congress passed the $52 billion CHIPS and Science Act in 2022 to boost U.S.-based semiconductor R&D and fabrication. The administration’s latest CHIPS goals include tripling the number of graduates in the semiconductor field and doubling the related workforce.

Those objectives led the forum’s conversation between Massimo Ruzzene, vice chancellor for research and innovation at CU Boulder and Erwin Gianchandani, assistant director of the Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships, National Science Foundation (NSF). 

The two spoke about leveraging partnerships with academia and industry to speed the cycle of discovery and innovation in the semiconductor realm and the translation of that research to benefit society. “There’s something to be said for you already doing a tremendous job in creating a critical part of the semiconductor innovation ecosystem across the U.S.,” said Gianchandani. “We see that in the efforts of CU Boulder and other institutions working together in Colorado.”

The two also discussed providing new pathways for “cultivating, recruiting and retaining more diverse domestic talent,” said Gianchandani. “We really need to be thinking about, how are we going to get a workforce that’s knowledgeable, skilled and equipped to really be able to address the range of workforce needs that we see.” 

CU Boulder's role in advancing the workforce of the future

Keith Molenaar

Keith Molenaar (Dean, College of Engineering & Applied Science)

Ruzzene emphasized the role CU Boulder plays in sustaining U.S. competitiveness in chip design and R&D and in responding to the need for highly skilled workers. “We are proud to play a role at the nexus of innovation, bringing together academia, government and industry to advance the future of the semiconductor industry, in particular through research and workforce development,” he said.  

Keith Molenaar, dean of the College of Engineering & Applied Science at CU Boulder also weighed in on the university’s role in contributing meaningfully to a STEM-driven workforce. “From our undergraduate level, we have incredible students here,” he said. “And if you’re looking for a well-trained workforce coming out of the graduate side, both the masters and Ph.D. side, Boulder is really the place for that.” 

Molenaar also highlighted several university programs and partnerships supporting semiconductor research and workforce advances including the Colorado Shared Instrumentation in Nanofabrication and Characterization (COSINC) lab–a multidisciplinary, open-research facility providing access to state-of-the-art equipment for micro- and nano-fabrication. 

CU Boulder is also one of 14 university members of the Center for Heterogeneous Integration of Micro Electronic Systems (CHIMES) program, which is collaborating to advance the efficient and effective integration and packaging of semiconductor devices, chips and other components.

Molenaar summed up the enthusiasm of forum participants for leading in the semiconductor R&D and workforce arenas. “Together, I know we’ll push the boundaries of what's possible in this space,” he said.