CMC Microsystems and global partners team up to help stranded students continue research

Mark Lowey
August 5, 2020

Canadian not-for-profit CMC Microsystems and global partner organizations have teamed up to help students stranded in their home countries due to COVID-19 and unable to return to their studies, to continue their research in advanced technologies.

Without access to their labs and research infrastructure, these students are unable to continue the design and manufacture of research prototypes. This is a major setback for the students, who are left without the means to keep up in the highly competitive world of microelectronic and nanotechnology R&D.

Now help is on the way. On July 29, the Global MicroNano Technologies (Global MNT) group — convened by CMC Microsystems for more than a decade — launched a new initiative to assist students.

“We don’t want research to come to a grinding halt, and there’s quite a bit we can do," Gordon Harling, president and CEO of CMC Microsystems, told Research Money. “We’re making our best effort to help students who are stranded in their respective countries.”

Global MNT is an informal, worldwide association of organizations that provides support for education and research in microelectronics, photonics, sensors, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and other advanced technologies.

Global MNT is asking stranded students to reach out to any of its member organizations through on online portal to access vital research infrastructure and design capabilities, regardless of whether the students have been clients of any of the group members before. The organizations will then work together and with their suppliers to provide access to sophisticated design software and prototype manufacturing services.

“Given the international reach and breadth of expertise available through the Global MNT group, we’ve identified that the best way we can help is to provide these stranded students with access to the tools they need to keep their research moving, and to continue on their respective career paths,” said Romano Hoofman, program director at IMEC IC-Link in Belgium.

The Global MNT group includes:

  • Australian National Fabrication Facility
  • Canadian Microelectronics Corporation (CMC)
  • EUROPRACTICE consortium, which includes:

    • Circuits Multi-Projects, France
    • Fraunhofer, Germany
    • IMEC, Belgium
    • Tyndall National Institute, Ireland
    • United Kingdom Research Institute

  • IC Design Education Centre, South Korea
  • Systems Design Lab, University of Tokyo, Japan
  • Taiwan Semiconductor Research Institute

Global MNT represents Australia, Canada, the European Union plus Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Russia, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

“In normal times our collaborative approach to providing infrastructure allows researchers to access best-in-breed technologies from around the world,” Harling said. “In these unusual circumstances, our collective might can help to cushion the impact of the pandemic on research.”

CMC offers “CAD, FAB and LAB” services

CMC, which receives both federal and provincial government support, helps researchers and industry across Canada’s National Design Network develop innovations in microsystems and nanotechnologies. The network, managed by CMC and hosted by Queen’s University, is recognized by the Canada Foundation for Innovation as a “Major Science Initiative.”

CMC can offer stranded students computer-aided (CAD) design tools over the internet via “the cloud,” something no one in the U.S. offers, Harling said.

CMC also offers micro- and nano-fabrication, through commercial services, he said. “So anybody who’s got a design done can submit to us and we can have a prototype fabricated and shipped to them wherever they happen to be.”

CMC bundles several small designs together to cost-effectively purchase a minimum amount of fabrication from suppliers. Researchers then split the cost, which for students would be covered by their research grants.

Through its lab services, CMC is in touch with about 40 nano-fabrication and testing facilities located at universities across Canada. For example, students might have some prototype microchips that came back from fabrication, but don’t have access to the lab at the university where they were studying to test the components. “We can send them to a local university and arrange with the lab there to use their equipment,” Harling said.

About 50% of the researchers who use CMC’s tools and services are from university electrical and computer engineering departments, he said. The other 50% are from mechanical engineering, chemistry, physics and other STEM disciplines.

Harling said it’s too early to estimate how many students could benefit from Global MNT’s help. However, he noted that many foreign students who were studying in the U.S. prior to COVID either are unable or don’t want to go back there at this time.

Some of the research projects being conducted by students target diagnosis, assessment and management of COVID-19, Harling noted. “A significant proportion of the rest are laying the foundations that will enable the global economy to not just recover after this, but to thrive. It is vital that we work together to enable this research, and we hope that our assistance can help to bring about some positive results from these uncertain times.”


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