Computer Power User: Q&A With Dr. Michael Liehr.
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September 11, 2015 by Steve Ference. In July, the IBM Research Alliance (IBM, Samsung, and GLOBALFOUNDRIES) unveiled the semiconductor industry’s first 7nm node test chip with functioning transistors. Although actual chip production could still take years, industry insiders almost immediately praised the alliance’s accomplishment as extending Moore’s Law at least a couple generations. Others noted the alliance’s use of new EUV (extreme ultraviolet) lithography techniques and SiGe (silicon germanium) material. Also noteworthy is the alliance’s partnership with SUNY Polytechnic Institute’s Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in Albany, New York, where the 7nm breakthrough occurred in the SUNY Poly chip foundry. Dr.
Michael Liehr essentially oversees this foundry. In addition to his duties at the SUNY Poly chip foundry, Liehr is Poly’s executive vice president of innovation and technology and vice president of research, and he recently became CEO of the new SUNY Poly-led AIM Photonics (American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics). Funded through federal, state, private, and public funds, the institute’s research will explore integrating photonics components “to revolutionize computer chips, making them faster, smaller, and more reliable. ” We spoke with Liehr about the 7nm feat, Moore’s Law, and photonics fresh off his participation in the official announcement for AIM Photonics alongside U. Vice President Joe Biden, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and other officials.
Q: What does your involvement with the IBM Research Alliance and its success producing 7nm node test chips with functional transistors personally mean to you. ML: I’ve been in this industry, I hate to admit it, 30 years or more.
I feel a tremendous amount of pride, even though I know I’m a little cog in a very, very big engine that has really pushed forward more and more, for obviously more than 30 years. Semiconductor research has really enabled this industry to influence the way we live in such a profound way. The Internet, cell phones, you name it. I’m surrounded by technology that’s all enabled by what the semiconductor industry has been able to do. This relentless making of things cheaper by 25% or so every year has gotten us from a point from when IBM in the old days said, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers,” to a point where everybody carries multiple computers much smaller than what they could 30 years ago. Again, as one small, little piece in a very significant community, we have collectively worked to make that happen.
I feel very good about what it has done to the overall quality of life. 7nm is just a proof point that Moore’s Law is not dead.
A lot of skeptics—and by the way, I’d have to include myself in this—believe Moore’s Law is getting harder, not technically, to be very clear, but financially. It took more than just one company to take that next step and demonstrate absolutely that we’ve taken it; it’s a group of companies that are pushing the envelope of Moore’s Law and continue to push and have a firm belief we can continue to do that.
Again, that makes me feel very good. It also makes me feel good as a former IBM employee working at SUNY Poly to have been part of this through the development activities we have here, which include companies like Samsung, Global Foundries, as well as others. We’ve worked with all these companies, as well as IBM, for a long period of time to now be involved from this university point of view. That also makes me feel very good because it is testimony to this public-private relationship model that certainly IBM has embraced and obviously SUNY has in particular been advocating.