Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (Illinois District 14) visited NIU’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology (CEET) on Monday, April 25 to learn about its cleanroom laboratory, also called Microelectronics Research and Development Laboratory (MRDL).
University officials say the cleanroom lab offers many benefits to the northern Illinois region in the form of education, workforce training and research and development in the fabrication and design of microchips. The cleanroom lab is also utilized by local companies for research and development.
“We are honored that Rep. Underwood has visited NIU and the MRDL to learn more about workforce development and research in microchip fabrication,” said Gerald C. Blazey, Ph.D. vice president for research and innovation partnerships at NIU.
Microchips are currently in short supply globally. The shortage, exacerbated by the pandemic, has increased prices and delayed production of products. It has affected nearly every sector including automotive, computers, semiconductor manufacturing, defense, space, communication, health care and diagnostics, academia, and national labs.
Microchip manufacturing is a complex process requiring specialized lab spaces, cleanrooms, and complex advanced instrumentation. Only a handful of institutions in Illinois have such specialized capabilities.
“We feel this laboratory not only benefits the northern Illinois region but also contributes to overall US competitiveness and projects across technical domains that can generate significant intellectual property, novel innovations and technologies,” said NIU CEET Dean Donald Peterson, Ph.D.
Graduates with education and training in microchip fabrication earn high-paying jobs in microchip innovation, chemical/biological sensors, healthcare and diagnostics. Jobs in these industries range from process technicians, process engineers, technical sales engineers, research and development specialists, chief engineers, quality managers, directors of research, and research engineers. The typical pay for recent graduates in the electrical and biomedical engineering industry range from $70,000 to $120,000 and may reach upwards of $300,000 for professionals with doctoral degrees, employed in leading-edge companies serving pivotal roles, according to US News and World Report. High tech workforce development is also expected to create new entrepreneurial ventures, intellectual property generation in the region and thereby spurring economic growth in the region.
“The microchip lab enables NIU to address the needs of regional industry partners and start-ups through specialized training and service; to develop novel research and innovation in microelectronics chip fabrication and design, and to educate the next generation of diverse tech-savvy workers in microchip related technologies through novel curricular innovation and hands-on experiential learning,” said CEET Senior Associate Dean Mansour Tahernezhadi, Ph.D.
For more information about the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology visit niu.edu/ceet.