Everything blooms in its own time: Reflections on a springtime trip to Washington DC

Prof. John Goodenough from the Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering at the University of Sheffield writes about his recent trip to Washington DC, where he discussed semiconductor strategy with other industry leaders from the UK & the US

Photograph taken by Professor John Goodenough outside the White House
Photograph taken by Professor John Goodenough outside the White House

The below blog post is written by Professor John Goodenough

Washington DC in early spring is a beautiful place. I think it must be the combination of federal architecture and the newly blooming cherry trees, which were just coming into full flower during the first week of March, when I had the pleasure of joining the UK Government mission to Washington DC to discuss semiconductor strategy.

Hosted by the UK Embassy in DC, I joined a team from the newly minted UK Department of Science, Industry, and Technology. The varied team included luminaries from the UK semiconductor industry and academia. We visited a number of US Government agencies to discuss how the UK and US should cooperate together on roadmaps for semiconductor technology and research. This was part of a fact-finding exercise that will inform the UK semiconductor strategy, which is expected to be published shortly.

That week the US launched the implementation of the first wave of investment around the CHIPS act, which was passed last year.

This has focused on onshoring critical manufacturing capabilities to produce advanced semiconductor chips in the US, whilst reducing a dependency on the global supply chain. It was exciting to get briefings from the State Commerce and the White House. We were all a little in awe of the scale of funding counted in many tens of billions of dollars and the ambition demonstrated by the US investments. Whilst many of us found some of the political rhetoric very focussed on US national security and economic competitiveness, this is not dissimilar to the choices that every nation-state - UK included - needs to figure out following recent supply chain issues, and the concerns around security in national infrastructure that has been in the press. This is what the forthcoming UK Semiconductor strategy seeks to address.

The photo of the blossom and the Whitehouse above was taken through the railings on an early morning, jet-lagged walk. Not many folks get to go inside, and although we didn't get into the White House itself, we met with the administration in the Eisenhower building, which is right next door to the west wing!

Photograph of the team in the Eisenhower building at the White House
The team in the Eisenhower building at the White House

It's difficult to get good pictures in US government facilities (due to the vast amounts of heavy security!), and in some places, for example, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, you can't take anything other than pen and paper through the door! Here is an approved picture of the delegation in the library at the Department of State, quite a few of the great and the good of the UK compound semiconductors in the picture as well as a couple of us ‘design guys’.

Group photograph of those present at the semiconductor strategy day
Group photograph of those present at the semiconductor strategy day

The EEE Department in Sheffield is well-positioned to participate in both advanced research and workforce development initiatives to train the next generation of Semiconductor and System on Chip Design engineers. We hope that our strategy to link up our existing skills within the department building up from the materials research in the Semiconductor group and marrying them up to our new System on Chip design initiative will start to bloom here. Our trajectory resonated in many conversations both with the UK team and our US colleagues, which could perhaps one day lead to fruitful collaborations with US researchers from a desire expressed for strong collaboration between the various government officials.Watch this space for updates as the UK strategy emerges.

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