April 23, 2010
Q: What is your area of expertise?
A: Integrated circuit reliability. That means an integrated circuit should survive the manufacturing and assembly processes and, after ten years of operation, still operate within specifications.
Q: Give me a brief synopsis of your education and career.
A: I received a bachelor’s degree at Cornell University and a master’s degree at Stanford University. I worked at AT&T Bell Laboratories for a few years. Returned to school and got my PhD at UC Berkley and have been at Illinois ever since.
Q: You have been at Illinois since 1992. What do you enjoy most about being here?
A: Champaign-Urbana is an easy place to live. It’s a small town so you feel like you know everyone, and the airport is in close proximity. At the University, I have great students and great colleagues.
Q: Why did you become an engineer?
A: I was an all around good student in high school, so I felt like any career path was possible. I wanted to be a nonconformist, and going into engineering seemed to satisfy that desire, especially for me, an American woman. Everyone else I knew wanted to go to medical school or law school.
Q: How did you become interested in integrated circuit reliability and what keeps you interested?
A: When I arrived at UC Berkeley, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I would specialize in. I thought transistors were interesting, I thought lasers were interesting, I thought communication theory was interesting. One particular professor was assertive and directed me to join his research group, and so I wound up working on silicon device physics and reliability. It could have turned out a different way. Now that I have been working in this field for a number of years, I understand the various challenges and keep working to attack them.
Q: Tell me about a research accomplishment you’re proud of.
A: My group has explored the trade-offs between power, performance, and reliability, and we’ve shown that one does not have to accept reduced reliability in high-performance circuits.
Q: What do you enjoy most about teaching?
A: I enjoy improving my own understanding of the subject through constant study and responding to questions from students. That always provides me with new insight.
Q: What role do students play in your research?
A: Although I usually specify the research projects, obtain the funding, and provide direction, the students are the ones who have to go into the laboratory and do all the leg work. In our group, student names are listed first on all the publications, and students go to conferences to present our work. One might say that students are my product. My job is to supervise graduate students, train them to do research, teach them how to give presentations and write papers. They graduate when they’re ready to be independent researchers.
Q: Over the years, you have received several awards. Which one is most meaningful to you? Why?
A: Last year one of my students received the Best Student Paper Award at the International Reliability Physics Symposium, and I’m really proud of the work we presented there. This highlights that I see the most important part of my job to be training the next generation of researchers.
Q: What technology that’s currently under development are you most anxious or excited to see completed?
A: One of our current research projects is on electrostatic discharge (ESD) reliability of “system in a package,” including 3D IC. “System in a package” refers to stacking together multiple integrated circuits to achieve a very small form factor. The vision for tomorrow is true 3D integration; in this scenario, we not only have wires connecting together the periphery of multiple chips, but we also have vias going through the middle of each chip. There is not a good understanding of the ESD hazards for system in a package, so, as a result, people engineer each chip with as much protection as would be used if it were being packaged by itself. My group recently completed the first-ever study of the ESD reliability of stacked chips and found that we can reduce the amount of protection on each chip with no detrimental impact on reliability, which will result in improved performance.
We are now building our own “system in a package” to verify our hypotheses with experimental data. Then, the next step will be to look at 3D IC. These are not yet being manufactured yet but will be in a few years, and we are trying to be proactive in regards to the reliability hazards.
Q: What else do you hope to accomplish with your research?
A: When people design their chips, I want them to say, “we’re going to make it reliable by following the guidelines set out by the Rosenbaum group.” When I retire, I hope that all my former PhD students are the best in their field and people say, “They received their training from Elyse Rosenbaum and that’s why they’re so good.” It comes back to the most important part of my job being working with the students!
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