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Amidst the dynamic evolution of the digital age, electronic and photonic chips stand as twin pillars of innovation. Yet, the demand for skilled tech talent in these fields is more pressing than ever, compelling political and institutional efforts in the Netherlands to seek solutions to this critical challenge. But it’s a challenge that transcends borders. Therefore, the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) launched the Eindhoven-Taiwan Summer School.
- The summer school is a collaborative effort to bridge the global tech talent gap by bringing Dutch and Taiwanese students together.
- Europe faces a significant tech skills shortage, making initiatives like the summer school crucial for nurturing young talent and supporting the semiconductor industry’s growth.
“We create a platform where different academic cultures converge, fostering a global perspective on innovation”, says Aida Todri-Sanial. She is a professor at the Department of Electrical Engineering at TU/e and scientific director of the summer school. For five days, participants enjoyed lectures from leading experts in the fields of semiconductors and photonics from academia and industry, including global giants like ASML and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC). The summer school also included company visits such as SmartPhotonics and NXP Semiconductors.
Collective learning: Photonics vs. electronics
Collectively, the students gleaned valuable insights. Martijn Heck, a professor specialized in photonic integration and the scientific director of the Eindhoven Hendrik Casimir Institute at TU/e, gives an example. “Integrated photonics as a technology is where electronics was 40 years ago; it is not so different from electronics to understand, design and fabricate. But it has a very different application scope (red. Photonics focuses on the use of light (photons) for applications like high-speed data transmission and optical communication, while electronics primarily utilize electrical signals (electrons) for tasks like computation and sensing). I think the most important part of the summer school was to show the students that photonics could, in the future, be part of electronics. It already is. Students from all over the world should know that.”
With respect to integrated photonics, Taiwan and Eindhoven are quite complementary. While Taiwan focuses more on silicon semiconductors, Eindhoven is leading in indium phosphide based photonics. These technologies can merge heterogeneously in highly functional chips.
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The program promoted exchange between participants from the Netherlands and Taiwan, and cultural differences became evident. Todri-Sanial: “For instance, the Taiwanese students noted that Dutch students are very comfortable in engaging in one-on-one interactions with professors and daring to ask questions. This form of communication was relatively new for them, but they have since embraced and appreciated it greatly.” This way of communicating, according to Todri-Sanial, contributes to fostering innovation in the field, allowing students to freely exchange their ideas.
Talent needed in Europe
Statistics show that Europe is in the throes of a tech skills shortage crisis, with an estimated 1 million workers missing from the industry: a wake-up call to action. When it comes to the semiconductor industry, we can’t expect to source talent from nearby countries like Belgium, which already boasts icons like imec, or Germany, with its thriving tech hub in Dresden. Also France has its own well-established tech ecosystem. Hence, it’s crucial for the summer school to spotlight the much needed young talent from all over the world.
Delia Mitcan, who represents TU/e in Brussels: “The European Union has been actively promoting the European Chip Act, focusing on boosting the semiconductor industry in Europe. Talent is a crucial component of this initiative. We need to invest in the education and development of future engineers to work in advanced nodes and semiconductor manufacturing facilities.”
More to come
The first edition of the summer school has concluded, but Todri-Sanial envisions more and bigger in the future, provided there are sufficient financial resources available. “I believe, and the success of this school underscores it, that it’s a cost-effective means to cultivate more talent and gain recognition on a broader scale. But we cannot do it alone. It is the whole region’s responsibility to lead this charge.”
Fortunately, during the first edition of the summer school, industrial parties have already demonstrated their enthusiasm, such as Photon Delta, ASML, NXP Semiconductors, SmartPhotonics, Axelera AI, Neways Electronics and PhotonDelta. So that bodes well.
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