UW News

April 22, 2024

UW leads international group in semiconductor research and workforce development

UW News

The University of Washington is at the forefront of an international effort to innovate the semiconductor industry while building a skilled U.S.-based workforce to design and manufacture chip technology. UPWARDS for the Future will support work already underway in the UW’s Washington Nanofabrication Faciliity. Video credit: Kiyomi Taguchi, UW News

The University of Washington is at the forefront of an international effort to innovate the semiconductor industry while building a skilled U.S.-based workforce to design and manufacture chip technology.

Part of a landmark education partnership that was announced in May 2023 at the G7 meeting in Japan, the effort brings together researchers and faculty from the U.S. and Japan to support the University Partnership for Workforce Advancement and Research & Development in Semiconductors (UPWARDS) for the Future project. Micron Technology and Tokyo Electron Limited, as founding industry partners, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and universities together are investing over $60 million for the five-year project. Many of the participants are attending kick-off activities at the UW this week.

“With our University’s proven track record of using public research investment to spur economic and technological growth, the UW is excited to be taking the lead in expanding our capacity to educate professionals and drive discovery in the critical field of semiconductors,” said UW President Ana Mari Cauce. “We’re grateful to Senator Cantwell for her leadership and for the collaboration of our partners.”


A Seattle kickoff event hosted by the UW today and tomorrow will bring together university teams from Japan and the U.S. along with industry leaders and elected officials. Learn more about UPWARDS for the Future.


Modern technology — including household appliances, automobiles, computers and defense systems — relies on semiconductors. The semiconductor was invented in the U.S., yet today the U.S. produces about only 10% of the world’s supply. Recognizing the economic and national security risks this poses, U.S. policymakers passed the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) & Science Act in 2022 to strengthen the U.S. semiconductor ecosystem.

“Our nation’s success in advanced technologies depends on having a skilled workforce. The University of Washington will help establish the Pacific Northwest as a leader by training the more than 90,000 students, faculty, and skilled professionals needed to build the most advanced chips right here in the United States,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who was instrumental in passing the landmark CHIPS & Science bill. “If we want to lead the world tomorrow, we must invest in worker training today.”

Boise, Ida.-based Micron and the partner universities will jointly recruit new faculty members, named as UPWARDS Professors, who will work on high-impact research projects with the industry partners. In addition to their research responsibilities, UPWARDS Professors will also contribute to curriculum development and other UPWARDS for the Future activities, including advising exchange students and graduate fellows. The first cohort of UPWARDS professors, all women, will also participate in industry-led mentoring programs to help gain valuable insights supporting in the advancement of their own careers. The grants will also support graduate fellowships and provide research experiences for undergraduate students.

Initiatives like UPWARDS for the Future prioritize expanding the STEM talent pipeline to reach groups that are underrepresented in the semiconductor industry today. This vision for UPWARDS for the Future aligns with UW efforts to close the STEM gender gap, establish pathways into higher education and facilitate new programs dedicated to attracting and retaining historically underrepresented groups. President Cauce and College of Engineering Dean Nancy Albritton are members of the national Education Group for Diversification and Growth in Engineering Consortium, or EDGE. And, last summer, the UW joined the Northwest University Semiconductor Network, led by Micron, to grow the next generation of semiconductor experts, by enhancing experiential learning opportunities in the semiconductor industry, and prioritizing access for underrepresented students, particularly in rural and tribal communities.

“We are proud to be part of this innovation partnership and to lead the NSF grant for UPWARDS. As Washington state’s leading educator of engineers and as a leader in chip engineering and workforce development for the global innovation economy, it is an honor to work collaboratively with academic and industry partners to drive advancements in this crucial scientific field,” Albritton said.

In addition to the UW, the UPWARDS for the Future partnership includes five U.S. institutions: Boise State, Purdue, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Rochester Institute of Technology and Virginia Tech; and five Japanese universities: Hiroshima University, Kyushu University, Nagoya University, Tohoku University and Tokyo Institute of Technology. The UW will share the $10 million NSF grant with the five U.S. institutions, while Micron’s and Tokyo Electron’s $20 million gifts will be shared among the 11 U.S. and Japanese institutions.

“The UPWARDS for the Future program sets a prime model of government-industry-academia partnership, propelling the development of the U.S. semiconductor technology workforce. This initiative stands out with an emphasis on international collaboration, providing students with invaluable insights and experience into the industry’s international supply chain dynamics,” said Mo Li, UW professor of both electrical and computer engineering and physics, as well as a faculty member of the UW Institute for Nano-Engineered Systems. Li will lead UW’s efforts supporting UPWARDS for the Future.

The UPWARDS program includes five pillar activities, including: Semiconductor Curriculum Design and Implementation; Expanding Women Workforces in Semiconductors; Experiential Learning; US-Japan International Student Faculty Exchange; and Memory-centric Research Projects. At this week’s workshop, the 11 institutions aim to establish across-the-board plans on student exchange, curriculum sharing and standardization, and research collaboration.

Semiconductor engineering is the second strategic university-corporate partnership initiative concluded between American and Japanese academic institutions and the corporate sector since May 2022, when President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made a commitment to advance U.S.-Japan science and technology cooperation. The UW also is the lead partner on the Cross Pacific AI Hub partnership announced on April 10, to lead innovation and technological breakthroughs in artificial intelligence. Both UPWARDS for the Future and the Cross Pacific AI Hub are cornerstones of the UW’s global impact, building lasting relationships with peer institutions and industry on both sides of the Pacific to support UW students, faculty and staff on work to address critical issues.

For more information, contact Li at upwards@uw.edu.

Here’s what other leaders said about UPWARDS for the Future:

“Economic security depends on the ‘3 M’s’: machines, minerals, and minds. The UPWARDS network is developing the workforce that we need to secure semiconductor supply chains and delivering on the promise made by President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida to elevate U.S.-Japan cooperation in advanced science and technology. This innovative university-corporate partnership has become the model for long-term collaboration in transformative technologies.” — U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel

“This past year we have accelerated our collaboration with our ecosystem partners. Collaboration between the UPWARDS universities will cultivate the next generation of the high-tech workforce, ushering in an exciting new era of semiconductor research and manufacturing in the United States and Japan. Micron has made it a priority to increase opportunities for all students, making sure that women, students from underrepresented populations and those from rural or economically disadvantaged communities have equitable access to engineering and science degrees. The impacts of UPWARDS will be far-reaching as we work to meet the demand for semiconductor industry talent over the next two decades.” — April Arnzen, executive vice president and chief people officer, Micron Technology

“Tokyo Electron (TEL) is proud to participate in the U.S.-Japan University Partnership for Workforce Advancement and Research & Development in Semiconductors (UPWARDS) for the Future Program. The objectives of the program are in line with TEL’s vision to leverage our expertise as an industry-leading semiconductor equipment manufacturer and pursue technological innovation in semiconductors, thereby contributing to the development of a dream-inspiring society. Through participation in this program, we aim to help develop a diverse set of skilled individuals capable of leading future innovation in semiconductor technology. The UPWARDS Program is also part of our ongoing efforts in the US to collaborate with industry partners and help grow the talent pipeline for technicians, engineers, computer scientists, and other professionals who will be in high demand as the domestic semiconductor industry, its manufacturing base, and associated R&D activities grow.” — Alex Oscilowski, president, TEL Technology Center of America