The future of the semiconductor industry began to blossom recently in Seoul, South Korea as young, innovative minds teased out secrets to electronics manufacturing and their path to enter the industry one day. Twenty-seven middle schoolers gathered in early August at Yonsei University for SEMI High Tech U (HTU), the worldwide SEMI program that introduces students to science, engineering, technology and math (STEM) careers over three days of hands-on activities and experiential learning. Since 2001, HTU has reached some 8,000 students in nine countries.
Semiconductor giants including Applied Materials, KLA, Lam Research and Dongjin Semichem were key teachers as representatives from the companies gave theoretical and practical lectures to pique the students’ interest in STEM educations and careers. The speakers, all experts in microelectronics, surveyed microchips and solar cells, mathematical and scientific experimentation, engineering design and the inner workings of semiconductor manufacturing before the students broke off into teams for lessons largely of their own making.
Fine-tuning a wooden contraption – a Statapult – to hurl a ball as far as possible might not sound like the stuff of microelectronics, but it drew on the type of problem-solving skills and creativity the students will need to thrive in the semiconductor industry. Student teams made adjustments to the levers of miniature catapults, then tested the throwing power of the devices. After the ball tosses, they reconvened as a class to share lessons in how they calibrated their catapults for a longer tossing distance and ways they could improve the devices’ performance.
Students also took tours of two very different semiconductor manufacturing settings – one virtual and the other real. The young learners donned virtual reality headsets for a simulated walk-through of Applied Materials (the tour was sponsored by the company), then slipped on bunny suits for a tour of Yonsei University's BIT micro fab and a close-up look of how semiconductors are made.
But it was the ever-popular Human Calculator game that inspired the greatest thrill as students dove deep into technology. During the exercise, they converted numbers into binary and then traced the digits through a series of gates in an electronic circuit, an exercise requiring careful team communication and concentration to generate the right outputs. The students surprised SEMI Korea employees and instructors, and themselves, by completing the exercise with record speed. Their time: less than two seconds.
Human resources managers from sponsor companies were on hand to give the middle school students a head start in their careers with lessons in resume writing and career management. In mock interviews, the students honed their interviewing skills. And in meetings with SEMI High Tech U alumni they learned how their predecessors worked their way into semiconductor industry and their focus of study in college.
To be sure, the day was rich in details about working in the microelectronics industry. But did it meet the students’ expectations? In a survey before the event, the more than two dozen students, on average, rated their knowledge of microelectronics at 4.5 on a scale of 1 to 10, a score that jumped to 7.7 after completing HTU. Their favorite module? No surprise: Engineering Design. In this exercise, the students designed a carrier for six 12-ounce beverage cans using only decidedly low-tech materials such as strings, rubber bands and wooden boards. Their innovations were studies in high creativity and ingenuity – just the type of imaginations the semiconductor industry needs.
SEMI Korea has offered SEMI HTU since 2011. This year, various other career development programs such as semiconductor manufacturing tutorials and mentoring are planned as SEMI Korea continues to sow the seeds of the next generation of industry workers.
Jaegwan Shim is a marketing specialist at SEMI Korea.