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The role of Virginia colleges and universities in the national semiconductor push

General Motors Chip Shortage
Jeff Roberson
FILE - In this Wednesday, March 24, 2021 file photo, mid-sized pickup trucks and full-size vans are seen in a parking lot outside a General Motors assembly plant. General Motors and other automakers struggled with shortages of necessary computer chips due to the pandemic and its resulting economic woes.

The federal government is about to start making huge amounts of money available to help encourage domestic semiconductor manufacturing.

Researchers at Virginia Tech who study semiconductors are trying to figure out better ways to synchronize devices and essentially make them all work more efficiently with each other.

Yuhao Zhang is a professor at the Center for Power Electronics Systems.

"So for example, you would use the optical signal to turn the device on and off instead of using the electrical signal," says Zhang.

The idea that power electronics could be optically driven is one of the many advances going on right now at Virginia colleges and universities. Christina DiMarinos is a professor at Virginia Tech’s Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

"So, we plan to, for this project in particular, involve not just graduate students but also undergraduate students and have them all learn more about these technologies," DiMarinos says. "We also are tying this work into our courses that we teach, not just kind of where we are today technology-wise, but where are we going?"

Earlier this year, Congress passed a bill that includes massive new investments aimed at encouraging domestic semiconductor manufacturing. Researchers at Virginia Tech say the students who are studying power electronics today could end up being crucial to the new workforce needed for semiconductor manufacturing across the county and possibly even here in Virginia.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Updated: September 28, 2022 at 4:44 PM EDT
Editor's Note: Radio IQ is a service of Virginia Tech
Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.