UT partners with state to form semiconductor chip initiative, hosts roundtable with Cornyn, McCaul

Leena Alali and Katy Nelson

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul visited UT on April 18 to discuss the future of semiconductors and the University’s role in the development of this industry.

Cornyn and McCaul engaged in a roundtable discussion with industry executives at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus to discuss the University’s public-private partnership with the Texas Institute for Electronics to advance semiconductor research within the United States. S.V. Sreenivasan, a professor in engineering who is leading the initiative with the institute, said funding for the institute’s semiconductor research comes from the CHIPS for America Act, which was signed in January 2021.

“Chips are in everything,” said Michael Hasler, associate professor of instruction in the department of information, risk and operations management at UT. “If you can’t produce the chips, then you can’t produce the automobiles and the airplanes and the Fitbits and other things that take chips.”

Semiconductor chips are small electric circuits, typically made of silicone, used to insulate electricity within various devices such as cars and cellphones, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association.

Sreenivasan said the CHIPS Act includes three goals: improving semiconductor technology in the U.S., ensuring a secure supply chain for sectors of the U.S. and promoting the economic viability of the national industry and workforce in semiconductor research. CHIPS is expected to allocate $13 billion in funding, Sreenivasan said, and UT could get a substantial portion of this money.

“We’ve established partnerships with 12 universities and about 21 companies so far in the semiconductor sector, and we’re using this network to build an alliance for a public-private partnership that would compete for the federal dollars,” Sreenivasan said.

Hasler said the U.S. mainly relies on suppliers from China or India to produce chips. Hasler said the institute should consider bringing a supplier to the U.S. to be able to complete the supply chain locally and avoid relying on any outside sources to produce chips from start to finish.

“When the supply chain is operating effectively, no one notices,” Hasler said. “It’s only when it breaks down that people notice.”

A recent shortage of semiconductor chips has led to a limited supply of various products, Hasler said.

“That’s one of the reasons the electric vehicles aren’t coming on as fast as everybody would like them to: We can’t get chips.“ Hasler said. “A lot of that has to do with the fact that demand far outstrips the supply. … So, once again, you have to worry about that supply chain, and I don’t think there’s been enough emphasis there.”

Cornyn said in a statement provided by his press secretary that it is imperative to focus on semiconductor production including research and development for the future. 

“The CHIPs for America Act will equip the upcoming generation of scientists, engineers and innovators with cutting-edge facilities and programs to increase our manufacturing capacity, support economic growth, secure supply chains and ensure long-term national security,” Cornyn said.