Today our daily life cannot be imagined anymore without electronics. For our work, communications, safety, healthcare, entertainment and in our cars we rely on integrated circuits (ICs) and miniaturized sensors such that they have become a commodity and that we almost forget their presence. All experts, not only in the field of electronics, unanimously agree that the importance of integrated circuits in the future will even grow in all fields mentioned above. Here are just two examples: many companies, not only car manufacturers, are looking into autonomous driving. This can only be made possible with an enormous increase of the number of ICs in a car and of their functionality. Another example is the insatiable need for faster wireless communication of more and more data: everyone and everything wants or has to be connected to the internet, people want to download or transfer high-resolution movies over the air without having to wait for minutes and minutes, …
As of today, most of you are using a 4G smartphone while 5G is being rolled out. With several PhD students and in close collaboration with imec we are already preparing for 6G. To have a preview on 6G, please read https://www.eoswetenschap.eu/technologie/zo-zal-6g-er-vermoedelijk-uitzien (Dutch) and https://www.imec-int.com/en/press/new-imec-research-program-pursues-development-scalable-and-energy-efficient-6g-device
The evolution mentioned above is only possible thanks to the incredible advance of the technology of integrated circuits, mainly the CMOS technology. At the time that I made my Msc. thesis, I have been using 3 micron CMOS, today my PhD. students play with 28nm CMOS and some of them are looking into … 3 nanometer, a difference in feature size of 1000 compared to my Master’s thesis!
The enormous downscaling of CMOS over the years has led to a huge increase of the complexity of chips: a smartphone today is millions of times more powerful that all of NASA’s combined computing in 1969. For example, using 28 nm CMOS one can fit a few million gates into one square millimeter.
Complex digital systems that are put on a chip (so-called “systems on chip”) need to rely on analog electronics. First of all, they have to interface with the outside world that is analog. To this end, analog interface electronics is used. Examples are the electronics between the antenna of a cell phone and the digital heart of the smart phone, the electronics that transform incident light on the pixel cells of a camera into digital signals, … Next, a digital system on a chip relies on analog circuits for its proper operation, namely for clock generation, power management, temperature control, …
In terms of number of transistors, analog integrated circuits are much simpler than digital circuits, for which the number of transistors on one chip can be higher than one billion. With the further evolution of electronics, it is expected that the importance of analog integrated circuits will grow and the demand for analog IC design engineers will increase. Already today, the involved companies are fighting for talented analog IC designers and more work needs to be done with too little people.
My role at the university is to train future engineers in analog integrated circuit design. I teach the basics of analog IC design at the Msc. level and I supervise several PhDs. With my function at imec, I can bring the students into contact with big industrial players that collaborate with imec in the field of analog/RF/mm-wave IC design. In this way, my courses of analog electronics as well as the PhD. subjects remain industrially relevant.