NSF, chip industry to fund multicore processor research

The National Science Foundation and the Semiconductor Research Corp. have announced a joint $6 million program to support academic research on multicore chip design and architecture.

The three-year program will fund university research programs intended to advance semiconductor performance at a time when Moore's Law is bumping up against the laws of physics. Following the predictions of Gordon E. Moore, the number of circuits that can be fitted onto an integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years. These circuits usually are built on complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) chips.

'CMOS scaling is increasingly limited by the realities imposed by physics, making architectural innovations critical to achieving increased computational performance,' said NSF program director Sankar Basu. 'Multicore-based systems promise computational performance enhancements and power reduction for both high- and low-end computing platforms.'

Specific areas of research for the program include computer-aided design for multicore systems, such as acceleration of design automation tools with multicore platforms; interconnect, packaging and circuit techniques for multicore systems; and low-power innovations.

The Semiconductor Research Corp. is comprised of semiconductor companies and promotes and financially supports the industry's interests. The organization actively pursues collaborative programs to leverage federal funding.

"Cooperative programs with NSF help SRC to deliver value to its industrial members' capabilities while allowing universities to continue to improve their understanding of the needs of the semiconductor industry,' said SRC executive vice president Steven Hillenius. 'The work benefits several sectors of the research, design and manufacturing environment."

SRC president Larry Sumney recently called for increased cooperation between government and industry in funding advanced research. At a science and technology summit called by the White House and held last month at Oak Ridge, Tenn., Sumney pointed out that the federal government is the largest single source of funding for basic research, spending $27.7 billion in fiscal 2006, accounting for 63 percent of basic research being done at universities.

'But supply of federal research funds is likely to increase only modestly based on historical trends in research spending and current external pressures on the federal discretionary budget,' Sumney said. 'Therefore, there is a growing need to leverage federal funding and grow alternative sources of support for academic research. University-industry collaborations allow greater use of academic research capacity and increase the return on investment in research by facilitating the transition of ideas into practical use and creating pathways for science and engineering students to careers in high-tech industries.'

The federal government is the largest supporter of basic research, and the private sector invests primarily in applied research and development aimed at creating products, he said. Private-sector research and development depends on and builds on information developed by federally funded basic research enterprise. Industry will benefit from a cooperative model that leverages these two types of funding to transfer advances in basic research to practical products, Sumney added.

This has been SRC's niche. Since its founding in 1982, the SRC has managed more than $1.1 billion in research funds, supporting nearly 7,000 students and 1,600 faculty at 237 universities. A number of its programs have been funded in conjunction with federal agencies including the Defense Department, NSF, NIST, and the Energy Department.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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