Regional Advantage: Part 2- Pitting Belgium's IMEC against California's U.C. Berkeley

Note: Go To Regional Advantage: Part 1

This is the second installment in a 2-part series comparing and contrasting California's U.C. Berkeley and IMEC in Leuven, Belgium. These two institutions have similar mission statements as far as research partnering is concerned, but the point of this exercise is to suggest that although the words may be the same, the ideas behind those words are completely different.

In Part 1, I gave a rundown of my impressions of Berkeley's recent EECS Annual Research Symposium held on the U.C. Berkeley campus on February 23, 2006. It was a one-day event with about 350 people in attendance. The morning was full of presentations; the afternoon offered opportunities to visit the many research labs around campus that are associated with the EECS Department at Cal.

Here in Part 2, I'm going to talk about IMEC. I visited IMEC in Belgium in mid-October 2005, where I attended IMEC's 2006 Annual Research Review Meeting. There were about 40 journalists there for the first 2 days of the week, which was the pre-symposium press briefing. That event included presentations, a day trip to Eindhoven, and a visit to a clean room at ASML. The actual symposium itself had many hundreds of attendees, and consumed the last 3 days of that same week.

October 2005 - IMEC Annual Research Review Meeting

If you live in North America, it's a long trip to Leuven, Belgium. If you live in Japan, it's a long trip to Leuven as well. Nonetheless, journalists from San Francisco and L.A., San Jose, Boston, and Tokyo all made their way to IMEC in Leuven in October for a very good reason - we wanted to experience for ourselves the energy and innovation, people, personality, and purpose of the place. We did not come away disappointed.

Of course, there were a host of European journalists in Leuven with us as well. We were all attending the 2-day Press Preview for IMEC's 3-day Annual Research Review Meeting which followed immediately after our event. But the European journalists could fly in for a day or two and barely change time zones, nary miss a moment's sleep.

For those of us who made the trek from North America or Japan, our 60-hour visit to IMEC was basically an exercise in mind over body, determination over jet lag - an epic struggle between dark, highly caffeinated espressos and that perpetual state of catatonic semi-consciousness visitors from distant longitudes enjoy in the first few days after arrival.

Don't get me wrong - the trip was definitely worth it, particularly as IMEC picked up the tab for our travel and our hotel. But to say we were bright-eyed and bushy tailed might be a bit of an overstatement.

What does IMEC stand for? Well, to really know you need to speak Flemish. If you don't speak Flemish, IMEC (kind of) stands for the Institute for Micro Electronics. In any language, IMEC is the largest independent microelectronics research institute in Europe, and it's unlike anything that we have here in North America.

The IMEC facility in Leuven houses just shy of 1400 employees, as well as hundreds of visiting researchers, extensive office and research space, and two clean rooms - one supporting 200mm wafer research and manufacturing, and one supporting 300mm wafers The facility in Leuven is a lively place, full of a population of young dynamic people working alongside more senior researchers in a collegial atmosphere - at least, it certainly looks that way to the visitor - and the physical plant is quite appealing, set among the trees in a park-like setting.

From a technology standpoint, the IMEC organization is complex. It includes a plethora of different divisions centered on a host of different technologies, including CMOS-based nanoelectronics, materials characterization and reliability, packaging, MEMS, system integration, GaAs and GaN-based structure processing, solar cells, multimedia coding, wireless communication and wireless autonomous transducers, and bio and organic electronics.

IMEC was founded in 1984 and was the brainchild of the late Roger Van Overstraeten. Roger and his team sensed that one way Belgium could develop a venue for the cutting-edge science related to microelectronics and technology was to obtain start-up funding from the Flemish government, and orchestrate those resources with contributions from industry and academia.

When IMEC was founded, the Flemish Government invested 62 million euros in the non-profit center. Still today, 20 years later, IMEC is funded by the Flemish Government, but to a far lesser extent. The 2005 budget for the institute has grown to 200 million euros, of which only 35 million comes from the Flemish Government. Other revenues come from the European Commission, and from the fees paid by industry and universities to have their researchers participating at the site.

Universities include the Katholieke Universiteit of Leuven and the University of Antwerp, among others, while the list of corporate partners is enormous. A sampling from that list includes Philips, Samsung, TI, Infineon, Matsushita, ST and TSMC. (In fact, the TSMC participation was just being announced at the October 2005 Research Review Meeting when we were there). All told, IMEC has more than 500 partners from industry and academia - all of these organizations interested in supporting and participating in the kind of research that IMEC hosts, research intended to nudge today's technology into tomorrow's lifestyles.

Of course, the EDA community is very familiar with IMEC as Hugo de Man, the 1999 winner of EDAC's Phil Kaufman award, spent a great deal of his career at IMEC in conjunction with his faculty appointment at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven.

The success of the IMEC research institute has impressed many. The population at work there - employees and resident researchers from over 50 different countries - are people who are using the facilities to further their own research agendas in cooperation with IMEC's. It's a partnership that works.

IMEC, the main campus, is set in the charming town of Leuven, 15 minutes east of Brussels. Look closely at Leuven and you'll see that it suffered heavy damage during both World Wars. The city has been re-built, but enough of the original municipality remains to allow you to 'think' that you're still in that medieval university town of ancient days of yore.

When the journalists arrived in Leuven on Sunday afternoon, October 16th, we walked a few blocks from our hotel into the small city center for a lovely dinner at a traditional Belgium eatery. Pheasant and wild boar were both on the menu.

On Monday morning - overriding extreme jet lag - we hopped on a bus just after breakfast and rode north for 2 hours, through the green and pristine Belgium countryside and just over the border into The Netherlands. We were in the city of Eindhoven for two reasons - first was to visit the ASML facilities there, and second was to visit the just-opened satellite campus for IMEC housed in the new Holst High Tech Campus, which also resides in Eindhoven just adjacent to one of the numerous Philips facilities in the area.

We were visiting ASML because the company was working on the finishing touches of a new EUV lithography machine for delivery to IMEC in early 2006. ASML has an identical version of the machine with which they, in conjunction with IMEC, will work on further developments in the technology. Those of us lucky enough to be at ASML on that morning in October, first had a series of presentations from senior researchers there, and then suited up in ASML-provided clean room gear for a clumping stroll through their yellow-lit research chambers. We were able to see the alpha version of the new EUV lithography tool, which was in the final preparation stages before being delivered to IMEC's clean room in Leuven.

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Review Article
  • October 09, 2008
    Reviewed by 'Naresh Vijay'
    article has made good attempt to compare IMEC and UBC at the very basic and foundametal conceptual level of these international bodies. Discussion with Rabaey is also very enlightening and which explains How an Institutional way of working is different from an educational operation, and what are the advantages and disadvantages in context of renewal of researchers, larger and small projects and the way, technology transfer to industry takes place....

      Was this review helpful to you?   (Report this review as inappropriate)

  • October 09, 2008
    Reviewed by 'Praveen Raghavan'
    Interesting article comparing industrial research vs "relavant" academic research!

      Was this review helpful to you?   (Report this review as inappropriate)

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