PORTLAND, Ore. Bell Labs confirmed Friday (Aug. 29) that it is exiting the chip researcher business.
Researchers at Bell Labs, now part of Alcatel-Lucent, have received six Nobel Prizes in physics. For the last six years, since Bell Labs spun off its semiconductor business, its material sciences and device physics research group has been in decline. The only remnant left is a small group studying quantum computation, high-speed electronics and nanotechnology.
"It is true that Bell Labs Research has gotten out of material science research and device physics research because we are no longer in the semiconductor business, but fundamental research is still alive and well and going on throughout Bell Labs," said Gee Rittenhouse, vice president and head of research at Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs (Murray Hill, N.J.).
"We also closed our CMOS fab at Murray Hill, keeping only the very high-performance fabrication equipment that we now use for gallium arsenide, custom and optical components," Rittenhouse said.
Bell Labs Research currently employs about 1,000 researchers worldwide with an R&D budget of just under $2 billion. Most of the work performed at its New Jersey headquarters. The rest is scattered around the world in R&D centers in Paris, Germany, Ireland, India and China.
"If you look at Bell Labs historically--going back to the late 1940s when semiconductor research got its start--a lot of that research was driven by Bell Labs," said Lance Wilson, research director at ABI Research (Oyster Bay, N.Y.). "But today semiconductor research is spread out across the world in both the university landscape and in corporate research, so its much more diffuse and diversified today. Nobody has [a] corner on semiconductor research anymore. There is no single entity that if it went out of existence today which would impact semiconductor research one iota."
Rittenhouse said Bell Labs continues to do "fundamental research in wireless, networking, optics, computer science and still even in physics, but there we are focusing on quantum computation, high-speed electronics and nanotechnology with a group that is larger than the four I've seen reported in the media.
"Admittedly, it is a much smaller group than before when we were doing silicon device research," added Rittenhouse. "We continue to have physical technologies research group and a physical sciences research group. In the past, they were divided into fundamental, materials science and device physics, but now they are focused on quantum computation, high-speed electronics and nanotechnology
Bell Labs was once one of the shining stars of basic research in physics and even astronomy. Today, parent company Alcatel-Lucent has mandated that research be distributed among its cores businesses. Bell Labs is now organized into eight groups: physical technologies, computing technologies, optics, fixed access, wireless access, networking, service infrastructure and applications.