Engineering Departments

Semiconductor Design Industry Faces Potential Roadblock; NSF Funds a Solution


October 27, 2004

To the average American, the importance of designing semiconductors rests in the hands of the electrical engineer. But when one considers that semiconductors are integral parts of everything from video games to diagnostic medical equipment to security devices, the demand for flawless design is universal.

And inside today's high-tech appliances, the electronic devices have become increasingly smaller, constantly pushing the envelope for the design engineer. To make sure a complex design works, it needs verification — the insurance that the design was implemented in a correct way that meets the specifications.

This is where the semiconductor industry visualizes a potential problem. The most recent International Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS) report made the observation that "verification engineers outnumber designers, with this ratio reaching two or three to one for the most complex designs."

The ITRS report went on to say, "Without major breakthroughs, verification will be a non-scalable, show stopping barrier to further progress in the semiconductor industry."

"We must train students to see that verification is a critical step in the design process," said Michael Hsiao, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Virginia Tech. "Otherwise too much valuable time is wasted debugging problems in the design."

Hsiao's research group recently announced "key breakthroughs in design verification." Mathematically, they have been able to reduce the process exponentially.

"In many cases, the number of distinct states a design can hold is greater than the number of protons in the universe," said Hsiao.

In response to this need, the National Science Foundation is providing $371,000 to Virginia Tech for the development of new coursework to better prepare students to understand and perform the verification process. Virginia Tech investigators submitted the funded proposal entitled, "Curriculum and Course Modules for Bridging the Verification Gap."

Hsiao along with his colleagues, Sandeep Shukla, Dong Ha, and Joe Tront, all faculty members in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech, will collaborate on this coursework development. In addition to Hsiao's breakthroughs, Shukla's group has developed a new way of building software. Ha has worked in computer-aided-design and testing, and Tront has accumulated experience in evaluation and assessment of student learning

For more information, visit the web site for the http://www.proactive.vt.edu]PROACTIVE Testing, Verification, and Power Management research group.


Lynn Nystrom
(540) 231-4371