Taiwan’s Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) and Purdue University in the U.S. announced the establishment of a center at the university to enhance semiconductor security, via a press statement last week. The Center for Secured Microelectronics Ecosystem is aimed at safeguarding the semiconductor and tool supply chain from the foundry stage to packaging.

The world’s largest foundry and Purdue officials announced the agreement in Washington, D.C. during the SelectUSA Conference held in mid-June. The annual conference, led by the Department of Commerce, combines a number of U.S. government agencies to facilitate investment in the U.S. The move comes as chip-level security raises new worries, not the least of which involves cyberespionage. The advent of AI opens a wide range of issues highlighted in research in areas such as poisoning of training sets and adversarial input. Outside the AI realm, as the number of edge devices surges, vulnerabilities such as Meltdown and Spectre have raised concerns about data leakage, data theft, and ransomware.

“Semiconductors will continue to be the enabling backbone for technological and economic growth in the 21st century, propelling advancements in IoT, autonomous transportation, AI, advanced manufacturing, and many other applications,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “Under President Trump’s leadership, the administration will continue doing all it can to grow and equip our highly skilled workforce, maintain our competitive investment, and regulatory environment and support world-class American research universities.”

The partnership may draw another line between the U.S. and China in the competition between the two nations to dominate new technologies such as 5G and AI in the future. The Trump Administration has banned suppliers of U.S. semiconductor technology from selling to China’s Huawei, the world’s biggest telecom equipment company, without special approval, because of what the government said were national security issues.

TSMC

TSMC headquarters. (Source: TSMC)

Secure Ecosystem

The center will be located at the Purdue campus in West Lafayette, Indiana, to conduct research on building a secure ecosystem for the manufacture of microelectronics systems. The Purdue School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, which will lead the R&D effort, has about 10 faculty members already collaborating with TSMC.

“TSMC is pleased to have this opportunity to support Purdue’s world-class technology research,” said H.S. Philip Wong, TSMC’s vice president of corporate research. “TSMC believes it would be beneficial to contribute to the development of a secure electronics ecosystem.”

TSMC’s commitment is only the beginning of what will be an internationally significant initiative, Purdue University President Mitch Daniels said.

“Purdue and TSMC will engage with additional universities in the U.S. and possibly other companies in the ecosystem,” Purdue University College of Engineering Dean Mung Chiang told EE Times in emailed comments. He declined to provide details on specific areas of research.

“This industry is one of the most important for our global economy and security,” said Chad Pittman, vice president of the Purdue Research Foundation National Security and Defense Program Office and Government Relations. “The strengths in research and development of Purdue and TSMC will help support and advance this critical industry on multiple levels.”

The agreement also allows TSMC to help facilitate access to multi-project wafer shuttle runs to test the effectiveness of the proposed research and to assign representatives on the advisory board of the center to mentor specific projects.