TAIPEI -- Taiwan is well known as a microelectronics manufacturing powerhouse for innovations "Designed in California" as Apple puts it. Now, however, the island country is making a concerted effort to pioneer its own electronics innovations -- starting at its National Taiwan University (NTU), whose government-sponsored research labs are prepping for home-grown electronics with mass-market appeal.
No one exemplifies that spirit more than NTU's president, IEEE Fellow Si-Chen Lee whose own research at his Amorphous- and Poly-Silicon Thin Film Transistor Lab has yielded next-generation sensors using quantum dots and nanowires.
"We perceive the world with our senses, but there is more out there all around us that we have not yet been able to sense, but perhaps can with the appropriate sensors," said Lee.
In exclusive interviews with EE Times, NTU's microelectronic pioneers recently described their efforts to widen Taiwan's microelectronics expertise base by advancing the frontiers of science and technology with its industry partners, which include TSMC, Mediatek, Intel and others, at its collaborative research centers.
From EDA to KDD
Taiwan's success so far has been in large part due to electronic design automation (EDA) expertise, where it has only been outperformed by the U.S. for the last five years -- as measured by number of research papers its presented at the IEEE's Design Automation Conference (DAC) and International Conference on Computer Aided Design (IC-CAD). However, it is not just about EDA anymore in the research labs at the country's premiere university, where scientists are diversifying into every field of microelectronics -- from nanomaterials to ergonometric apps.
National Taiwan University's island-wide campuses and government-funded research facilities comprise one percent of the land area on the island nation. SOURCE: NTU
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"Taiwan is already the number one producer worldwide of notebook PCs, LCD monitors, chip-testing and chip-foundry services," said IEEE Fellow and associate dean of the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science College at NTU, Yao-Wen Chang. "Our microelectronics companies include the number one contract manufacturer, Hon Hoi [Foxconn], the number one chip foundry, TSMC, and the number one maker of notebook PCs and servers, Quanta Computer."
Chang is typical at NTU, a microelectronics pioneer in EDA, due to receive four separate awards at DAC 2013's 50th anniversary celebration next month, all related to his unstoppable stream of DAC research papers presenting deep insights into EDA. Shao-Yun Fang, his prize student, last year gave an Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Grand Final Paper, then spent her summer as an intern at TSMC where she learned cutting-edge lithography concepts she will present with coauthor Chang at DAC 2013. TSMC has already offered her a position when she graduates this summer, but she turned it down -- hoping instead to enter academia like her mentor Chang.
"I can not join NTU's faculty, because they have a rule your Ph.D must be from somewhere else, but I can carry on the work at another university," said Fang. "Unfortunately, there are not many university openings right now though, so I may have to go to TSMC."