Research on the Future of Semiconductors in the CISE Directorate at NSF
NSF has a decades-long history of supporting basic research that has provided the underlying knowledge and innovation for our computing infrastructure based on semiconductor electronics. This infrastructure is the foundation of our current enabling technologies, such as the 5G communication, Artificial Intelligence, High performance Computing, security, sensing and other technologies. New discoveries and engineering approaches are needed to continue this remarkable engine for economic growth.
The Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Directorate at NSF has been supporting semiconductor microelectronics research through several of its core programs as well as several cross-divisional, cross-directorate, and cross-agency programs at a significant level for the last several decades. Indeed, two of its core programs - design automation for micro- and nano- systems program, and the computer systems architecture program â in the Software Hardware Foundations cluster of the CCF Division were the first such NSF programs after the invention of Very Large-Scale Integration (VLSI) of electronic chips and is ongoing still today. Since then, these and other CISE programs have been the primary source of sustained support for generations of leading research faculty in microelectronics at various US universities over the years.
The Directorate also has a long history of contributing knowledge and skill sets to the semiconductor industry via educating generations of graduate and undergraduate students in the field, and by co-sponsoring several of its collaborative programs with various industrial entities such as the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC) during the past two-decades, and the Intel Corporation in more recent years.
Much of the investment of the CISE Directorate ultimately involves directly or indirectly aspects of computing platforms, the hardware support for which are largely built using semiconductor technologies. Thus, in a broader sense, many CISE programs leverage from, if not directly tied to, microelectronics research to varying degrees. To be more specific, the computing stack is traditionally thought of as a hierarchy of layers with the devices, circuits in the lowest layers, and with architecture, software, algorithms, and applications in progressively higher layers. Lower layers of the stack (e.g., devices, circuits, architectures) more directly involve semiconductor technologies to the extent that researchers may interact with large scale fabrication facilities. The CISE investments largely fall in all categories, in view of the fact that avant-garde designs ideally involve cross-layer considerations from top to bottom of the stack.
While NSF investments in semiconductor technologies have independent focus and portfolios of their own, the topic due to its proximity with other areas of national importance, e.g., Quantum Computing, Artificial intelligence etc. also interacts with them. As such it interacts with Quantum Computing within the framework of NSF Quantum Leap Big Idea, with Artificial Intelligence within the framework of NSF AI Institutes program etc
Dear Colleague Letter: Partnership for Prototyping of CMOS+X Systems (NSF 22-076)
Program Solicitation: Future of Semiconductors (FuSe) (NSF 22-589)
Community input sought for Semiconductor research and education supported by CISE via a recent Request for Information (RFI):
The Computer Information Sciences and Engineering (CISE) Directorate also participates in an NSF-wide working group on Future of Semiconductors with the Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS) Directorate, and the Engineering (ENG) Directorate at NSF.
CISE-wide Center-Scale Investments
The Expeditions in Computing program provides the CISE research and education community with the opportunity to pursue ambitious, fundamental research agendas that promise to define the future of computing and information. Since its first award in 2008, the program has several awards with strong relevance to semiconductor research, some of which are ongoing and are listed below.
- Expeditions: Coherent Ising Machines for Optimization, Machine Learning and Neuromorphic Computing, Stanford University. Project website here.
- Expeditions: EPiQC: Enabling Practical-Scale Quantum Computation. Project website here.
- Expeditions: Visual cortex in silicon, Project website here.
- Expeditions: Customizable Domain Specific Computing, UCLA. Project website here.
Participating CISE Divisions
All three Divisions in CISE Directorate: Computing and Communication Foundations (CCF), Computer and Network Systems (CNS), Information and Intelligent Systems (IIS), and the Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure (OAC), have significant interest and programmatic activities on a continuing basis in the area of Semiconductor technologies in a broad sense. These includes research as well as education and workforce development.
Computing and Communication Foundations (CCF) Division:
The CCF Software and Hardware Foundations (SHF) cluster provides support for ongoing research in semiconductor electronics and related computing.
The SHF program supports fundamental research in all topics in design automation, including but not limited to logical, physical, behavioral, and high-level synthesis methods, testing, and verification; pre- and post-silicon validation; and design methodologies for scalable, low-power, and energy-efficient circuits and systems in silicon technologies. SHF also seeks research on design automation for emerging non-silicon technologies, possibly using non-charge-based state vectors (e.g., electron-spin, micro-electromechanical systems, optics, or phase state of materials), that may have the potential to take computation beyond Moore's Law. Analog circuits as well as ultra-high-frequency communication circuits and systems specifically aimed towards this latter goal are also within scope.
The SHF program supports research on hardware architectures that are inspired by artificial intelligence and machine learning, and that make synergistic use of materials and device technologies, along with their efficient implementations. Hardware experimentation of both model-based or model-free novel machine learning algorithms, e.g., those inspired by information theory and/or statistical mechanics, as examples of computing models inspired by physics are in scope as well.
The SHF program supports foundational research in high-performance computing (HPC) that is aware of, driven by, and inspired by applications and is also informed by platform heterogeneity and architecture concerns. SHF seeks novel research on enabling technologies and tools to balance and optimize performance goals including scalability, power, productivity, repeatability, and validity. SHF encourages software and hardware co-development and co-design to exploit parallelism and concurrency at scale to satisfy energy, performance, reliability, and programmability requirements. A radical examination of the whole hardware/software computing stack from applications to algorithms, to system software, to architectures, to technologies, is encouraged to lay the foundation for next-generation HPC systems.
The SHF program supports foundational research in computer architecture and computer hardware system design, including but not limited to specialization, heterogeneity, energy efficiency, approximation, scalability, parallelism and concurrency, inter-component communication, performance, reliability, and novel computing paradigms. The program supports fundamental and transformative research in processors, accelerators, interconnects, memory, and storage architectures. The program seeks research that takes holistic and cross-layer approaches to fully harness the promises and address the challenges of new and emerging substrate technologies and materials, and that considers emerging trends in computation-intensive, data-intensive, and I/O-intensive applications
- Current Funding Opportunities
- Related News and VIDEO
- Fundamental research and the future of semiconductor research - NSF media briefing: video can be viewed here.
- Workshops and Reports
- NSF Workshop on Micro/Nano Circuits and Systems Design - Dec 14-16, 2020 (https://nsfedaworkshop.nd.edu/ ); draft report available here.
- Semiconductor Foundry Access by US Academic Researchers in Micro- and Nano- Circuits and Systems December 16, 2020 (final workshop report available).
- 2021 NSF Workshop on CMOS+X Technologies, August 17-18, 2021 (https://e3s-center.berkeley.edu/nsf-workshop-cmosx/).
- Collaboration with Industry and other agencies
- Real Time Machine Learning (RTML) program with the DARPA (ongoing). (cf. DARPA ERI summit 2019 here).
- Foundations of Microarchitecture (FoMR) program with Intel corporation (ongoing), Webinar archived. Most recent program solicitation here.
- Computer Assisted Programming for Heterogeneous Architectures (CAPA) with Intel corporation (ended). Original Program solicitation here.
- Energy Efficient Computing: Devices to Architectures (E2CDA) with Semiconductor Research Corporation (ongoing)- phase -I and II (cf. program page here).
- Semiconductor Synthetic Biology (SemiSynBio) for Information Storage and Retrieval, (ongoing; previously with SRC).
- Two AI Institutes â one at GaTech and one at UC San Diego - both having heavy emphasis on semiconductor chip design are co-funded by Intel Corporation. https://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/research/blogs/nsf-foundation-ai.html
Computer and Network Systems (CNS) Division:
The CNS Core program deals with all aspects of computer and network systems, including the resources from which those systems are built - computing, storage, communication networks, and softwareâand the way those resources are organized and distributed. As these resources continue to evolve and change, the science of understanding and designing networked computing systems is of critical importance. Current and future systems need to satisfy various common and purpose-driven requirements. Common system requirements include security, reliability, manageability, usability, and sustainability, as well as cost-effectiveness and fitness for purpose. Depending on the context, other requirements may include performance, privacy preservation, scalability, responsiveness, and survivability. All of these research areas can make use of, or propose new capabilities of, semiconductor devices.
The CNS Core program supports innovative research that considers technology trends and emerging challenges, while emphasizing a system focus and awareness of the types of requirements mentioned above. The CNS Core program recognizes the interdependency and blurring of boundaries among computing, storage, and networking (sub)systems and the research associated with them. As such, specific sub-programs are not called out. It is not the intent of the CNS Core program to reduce the scope of the research areas covered by the division. Rather, the intent is to encourage cross-fertilization among areas of CNS research.
Research of interest for this program:
- Explores fundamental principles and creates innovative technologies, protocols, and systems that define the future or—more realistically—harness current and emerging technologies, trends, and applications.
- Produces practical abstractions, techniques, tools, artifacts, or datasets that address/enhance both general and functional requirements such as those outlined above;
- Reflects a clear understanding of what each component does and how it interfaces with the rest of the system and the environment.
In general, any topic having to do with augmenting, understanding, enhancing, or transforming computing and communication systems undertaken from a systems point of view is within scope.
- Current Funding Opportunities
- The CNS Core program is made up internally of the Computer Systems Research (CSR) cluster and the Network Technology and Systems (NeTS) cluster. However, in recognition of the blurring of research activities in computer and network systems, PIs do not submit directly to those clusters. Instead, proposals are submitted to the CNS Core Progam (part of the CISE Core Programs) and they are clustered into panels where they will get the most informative reviews.
- Ongoing Center-Scale Investments
- The AI Institute program, currently in its 2nd year, is an NSF wide program administered by the IIS Division, but with participation of all divisions. While the program targets broad areas of foundational and applied topics of Artificial Intelligence, special attention may be drawn to Theme 4 of the FY 2021 solicitation having emphasis on the use of AI to improve the design of computer and network systems, and the design of computer and network systems to better enable AI.
- Athena (https://athena.duke.edu/ ): NSF AI Institute on AI-Driven Next-generation Networks at the Edge — Duke University (lead institution) with MIT, University of Michigan, North Carolina A&T, Princeton, University of Wisconsin —Madison, and Yale.
Edge computing is driven by the enormous growth in data collected by billions of internet-of-things and mobile devices. Instead of sending data to the cloud for processing and storage, edge computing uses a distributed model where the processing is done much closer to where the data is created. This offers the potential for faster, near real-time response, lower cost, improved security, and greater power efficiency. However, such a computing architecture relies critically on reliable networks and data-driven AI techniques to operate at scale.
- NSF AI Institute on Symbiotic Foundations for AI and Network Research (https://aiedge.osu.edu) — Ohio State University (lead institution) with Northeastern University, University of Texas at Austin, University of Washington, University of Wisconsin — Madison, University of Illinois at Chicago, Purdue University, University of Massachusetts Amherst, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Michigan, and Carnegie Mellon University.
- Workshops and Reports
- Workshop on Integrated Circuits Research, Education, and Workforce Development, first (virtual) workshop Oct 14-15, 2021; 2nd (in person) workshop schedules for May 13-14, 2022. Workshop website: https://nsf-ic-education.com/
- Workshop on Sustainable ComputingâFall 2021-Spring 2022. For more details please see: https://nsf-suscomp.org/
- Collaboration with Industry and other agencies
- NSF/VMWare partnership on the Next Generation of Sustainable Digital Infrastructure (NGSDI). Program solicitation, and webinar (archived).
- Resilient and Intelligent NextG Systems (RINGS)âa program in partnership with Apple, Ericsson, Google, IBM, Intel, and Microsoft. Also, the Department of Defense and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Program solicitation and webinar (archived).
- The Secure, Trustworthy, Assured and Resilient Semiconductors and Systems (STARSS) program with the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC). Program solicitation (archived), and webinar (archived).
- NSF/Intel Partnership on Cyber-Physical Systems Security and Privacy (CPS-Security) Program solicitation (archived).
- The Cyber-Physical Systems program (CPS) within CNS is a multi-agency program that includes partnerships with the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Transportation, National Institutes of Health, and Department of Agriculture.
Information and Intelligent Systems (IIS) Division:
The Division of Information and Intelligent Systems (IIS) studies the inter-related roles of people, computers, and information. The division supports research in human-computer interaction, data science, and artificial intelligence. IIS includes three core programs, Human-Centered Computing (HCC), Information Integration and Informatics (III), and Robust Intelligence (RI). The division contributes to many interdisciplinary crosscutting programs. Implementations of and experimentations in many of these projects in core areas of IIS division, as well as its center scale investments in AI largely rests on semiconductors. More details on this latter topic is described below and also elsewhere in the page).
- Ongoing Center-Scale Investments
The AI Institute program, currently in its 3rd year, is an NSF wide program administered by the IIS Division. While the program targets broad areas of foundational and applied topics of Artificial Intelligence, special attention may be drawn to Theme 2 of the FY 2021 solicitation having emphasis on the use of optimization techniques in Semiconductor Chip design with Intel Corporation as one of the major cofunding partners. Projects leverage the fact that the semiconductor chip design is a large multi-objective, multiscale optimization problem that stands to benefit from the application of modern AI techniques:
- NSF AI Institute for Learning-Enabled Optimization at Scale (TILOS), University of California San Diego (https://tilos.ai/ ).
The enormous scale and complexity of chip design optimizations motivate research to answer such questions as: How can we discover exploitable structure in cost landscapes? Can we apply distributed, data-driven sampling and search methods to obtain better designs in less time? And, what are the metaheuristic “templates” that will help match discovered instance structure to best-performing optimization strategies? Optimizing hierarchical, physical systems also demands communication of lower-level abstractions to higher-level optimizations, e.g., via statistical learning of low-dimensional representations that can be reused across search spaces. Last, chip design is also a testbed for augmenting rather than rediscovering domain expertise, by encoding expert knowledge and intuition to serve optimization and decision-making agents.
- NSF AI Institute for Advances in Optimization, Georgia Tech (https://www.ai4opt.org/ ).
Optimization and ML play a key role in both the pre-silicon design and post-silicon control of electronic circuits. This end-use case focuses on specialized algorithms in these areas, with hardware and algorithm domain experts working in close collaboration.
For pre-silicon design, the Institute explores data-driven techniques for automatic synthesis and optimization of analog mixed-signal (AMS) and digital circuits, mm-wave circuits with 3D electromagnetic (EM) structures, as well as heterogeneously integrated packaged components.
Beyond the design phase, online optimization and RL play a critical role in the “post-silicon” control of deployed massively scaled and reconfigurable electronics to maximize their efficiency and resiliency. Controlling active components (e.g., power amplifiers and front-end filters) as their operational environment changes can significantly extend their range of linearity and efficiency.
Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure (OAC):
The Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure (OAC) supports and coordinates the development, acquisition, and provision of state-of-the-art cyberinfrastructure resources, tools and services along with the necessary workforce essential to the advancement and transformation of science and engineering. OAC serves the broader community of scientists and engineers, across all disciplines, whose work relies on the power of advanced research cyberinfrastructure.
Innovations in semiconductors are potentially transformative for computational and data-enabled research and the underlying advanced cyberinfrastructure. In addition to power and cooling constraints, increased parallelism, heterogeneous computing elements and deep memory hierarchies present complex programming challenges to scientists and engineers using computation and data-drive approaches for solving fundamental scientific problems. To fully realize the advantages of new computing architectures inspired by future-generation semiconductor technologies, current science applications must adapt or invent new algorithms and software stacks. Research in programming abstractions, high-speed memory, and interconnects are complementary to new semiconductor technology development. Development of new software libraries and middleware is required to enable scientists and engineers to make transformative scientific discoveries using these new technologies. Thus, co-design between applications, system software, and algorithms is essential to building the next generation of advanced cyberinfrastructure platforms essential for science and engineering leadership. Equally essential is ensuring a skilled workforce capable developing these next generation of advanced cyberinfrastructure platforms, as well as the applications that will run on them.
- Current Funding Opportunities
- The OAC Core program supports translational research and education activities in all aspects of advanced cyberinfrastructure that lead to deployable, scalable, and sustainable systems capable of transforming science and engineering research and education. Advanced CI includes the spectrum of computational, data, software, networking, and security resources, tools, and services, along with the computational and data skills and expertise, that individually and collectively enable the conduct of science and engineering research and education.
- The Cyberinfrastructure for Sustained Scientific Innovation (CSSI) program targets emerging needs in cyberinfrastructure to enable science and engineering. CSSI recognizes the need for software, libraries, and middleware that can take advantage of rapid technological changes in the underlying hardware and networks, the accelerated use of new data representations and processing paradigms and the convergence of data, software and services.
- The Training-based Workforce Development for Advanced Cyberinfrastructure (CyberTraining) program seeks to (i) ensure broad adoption of CI tools, methods, and resources by the research community in order to catalyze major research advances and to enhance researchers’ abilities to lead the development of new CI; and (ii) integrate core literacy and discipline-appropriate advanced skills in advanced CI as well as computational and data-driven science and engineering into the Nation’s educational curriculum/instructional material fabric spanning undergraduate and graduate courses for advancing fundamental research.
- Ongoing Center-Scale Investments
- The Leadership Class Computing Facility is engineered to provide long-term computing power at massive scale to enable discovery at the frontiers of science and engineering. Frontera is a petascale computing system administered by the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) that has supported over one million jobs since its inception.
- OAC supports investments in advanced cyberinfrastructure systems and services for computational and data-intensive research through two categories of systems:
- Capacity HPC systems targeting capabilities and services for small- to mid-scale jobs across broad areas of science and engineering. Recent awards for capacity systems include deployments at SDSC, PSC, Indiana University, NCSA, and Purdue.
- Innovative computing prototypes and testbeds, particularly targeting novel processor architectures that can expand the range of science and engineering applications that can be supported. Recent awards include ultra-high bandwidth memory architectures (Ookami, Stony Brook University), AI-tailored hardware (Neocortex, Pittsburgh Super Computing Center), and neuromorphic architecture (Voyager, San Diego Super Computing Center).
- Icicle (https://icicle.osu.edu/ ) is an NSF AI Institute for Advanced Cyberinfrastructure that will provide a robust cyberinfrastructure capable of propelling AI-driven science, solve the challenges arising from heterogeneity in applications, software, and hardware, and disseminate the AI cyberinfrastructure innovations to use-inspired science domains. Ohio State University (lead institution) with CWRU, Iowa State, RPI, SDSC, TACC, UC Davis, UCSD, University of Delaware, Indiana University, University of Utah, and University of Wisconsin Madison.
- Workshops and Reports
Infrastructure and Education:
- NSF/CISE organized a (virtual) workshop on December 16, 2021 to access the infrastructure needs of the US computing community. The workshop involved representatives from industry, academia, govt. agencies, semiconductor foundries, both from the US and abroad. A comprehensive report from the workshop involving need for facilitate access to leading-edge foundries, the need to establish mid-scale facility for prototyping emerging technologies at-scale, access to open design ecosystems, and educational needs in academia is available at:
- A separate CISE organized workshop sequence emphasizing Integrated Circuits Research, Education, and Workforce Development spanning Fall 2021 through Spring 2022 is ongoing at this stage. Details available at: https://nsf-ic-education.com/
- NSF and SRC to support semiconductor research experiences for undergraduates: https://www.nsf.gov/news/news_images.jsp?cntn_id=304304&org=NSF