Microelectronics design

Research into all aspects of microelectronics design, from the development of novel designs to research into design tools, processes and design automation. This research area includes: managing complexity in design, integration, verification and test on-chip; design combining analogue and digital components; and development of design tools or technologies (e.g. synthesis, simulation, optimisation and reconfigurable hardware).

We aim to maintain the size of this research area relative to the whole EPSRC portfolio. This strategy recognises the importance of microelectronics design as a key enabling technology and an area of UK strength and importance.

Researchers should continue to develop new technology to manage system complexity (including reactive systems), alongside developing novel approaches to limit and reduce power consumption.

By the end of the current Delivery Plan, we aim to have:

  • Researchers forming new collaborations with those in the Architecture and Operating Systems, and Programming Languages and Compilers areas, in response to developments in neuromorphic and heterogeneous computing, as well as in memristor technology and embedded systems (which are expected to generate new challenges for Microelectronics Design)
  • Researchers making contributions to EPSRC's cross-ICT priorities of Future Intelligent Technologies, Safe and Secure ICT and Data Enabled Decision Making, via their work on system security, reliability and performance
  • Researchers contributing to the development of disruptive technologies in a wide range of application areas (e.g. healthcare, manufacturing and energy) and continuing to engage strongly with industry

Fully addressing many of these challenges will require ambitious cross-disciplinary proposals bringing together researchers from a variety of areas, as described in the Cross-Disciplinarity and Co-Creation cross-ICT priority.

We will monitor research training provision and the development of future leaders in this area throughout the Delivery Plan period, to ensure these reflect academic and industrial needs.

Highlights:

This is an area of high research quality where the UK is a major global player. The Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 exercise rated a large number of publications in this area as 4*, and university strategies and investments reflect this strength (Evidence source 1). The UK microelectronics industry acutely recognises the importance of high-quality university research (Evidence source 2) and a large appetite for such engagement in UK universities supports this.

Particular areas of strength include: ultra-low power, integration with sensors, application-specific integrated circuits, power-harvesting, autonomic (self-governing) systems, reconfigurable hardware, processing-on-node, multi-core processors and neuromorphic computation (Evidence source 3).

The UK electronics systems sector is of major national importance; Electronic Systems Challenges and Opportunities (ESCO) estimated that, in 2013, electronic systems technology was worth £80 billion/year to the UK economy and that “the UK has a 40% share of Europe’s electronics design industry” (Evidence source 2).

Companies such as ARM and Imagination Technologies have capitalised on this strength and are leading global players. There is substantial engagement in this sector from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with larger EPSRC grants, including spinouts (e.g. Gold Standard Simulations), (Evidence source 3). There is strong support in Europe for investment in massively parallel and heterogeneous environments and low-energy computing (Evidence source 4,5).

Intel’s recent acquisition of Altera and the integration of field-programmable data arrays (FPGAs) into Microsoft datacentres demonstrates the growing importance of FPGA technology and the likely widespread adoption of heterogeneous computing. This increase in complexity opens new challenges for Microelectronics Design (Evidence source 3,6). Industry recognises the potential for transformational research in memory technology, which would also provide new opportunities for developments in Microelectronic Design (Evidence source 3,5,7).

Industry reports also recognise the growing importance of embedded software with sensor technology and predict that the greatest potential economic impact of the Internet of Things will be in industry (in process control) and cities (e.g. resource management and public health), (Evidence source 5,6).

EPSRC investments are increasingly concentrated in larger grants and form a significant part of the portfolio addressing EPSRC's former cross-ICT priority MACDES (Many-core Architectures and Concurrency in Distributed & Embedded Systems). This distribution of funding is appropriate at present but monitoring should continue, to ensure it does not disadvantage potential novel/important ideas coming from outside these grants’ sphere of influence (Evidence source 3).

Sector-wide concerns exist over training provision in electronic systems, especially regarding postgraduate training (Evidence source 2,3). Career progression is also a concern: it seems there is a trend for early-career researchers to move into more complex system areas away from the core discipline. It is unclear whether or to what extent this is a concern, but does need monitoring.

Key to facilitating this area’s contribution to the EPSRC Outcomes is the extent of support for technology development at higher Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs). To date, the focus on larger grants has allowed more flexibility over this; future strategies should ensure that these investments continue to deliver in this way.

Key enabling organisations for UK research include an industrial network, NMI; an academic network, eFutures and a design and manufacture facility, EUROPRACTICE (Evidence source 3). This research area is linked with many areas and Themes across EPSRC, most notably to areas within ICT. Those currently most relevant include Microelectronics Device Technology, Architectures and Operating Systems, Clinical Technology, and Radio Frequency and Microwave Communications (Evidence source 8).

This research area is expected to contribute in the short and medium term to a number of EPSRC Ambitions, particularly:

C1: Enable a competitive, data-driven economy

This research area should provide technology to enable faster, more efficient or real-time decision-making.

C2: Achieve transformational development and use of the Internet of Things

This area should make a key contribution through developments such as low-power technology.

C3: Deliver intelligent technologies and systems

This area should provide technology to enable faster communication and on-node processing.

C4: Ensure a safe and trusted cyber society

This area can contribute improvements to system reliability and robustness to malicious attack.

  1. Input from the ICT Strategic Advisory Team and REF panellists
  2. ESCO, A Blueprint for Economic Growth (PDF)
  3. Community and user engagement (both individual and group feedback)
  4. PlanetHPC, A Strategy for Research and Innovation through High Performance Computing (PDF), (2011)
  5. Computing Community Consortium, Review of 21st Century Computer Architecture (PDF)
  6. High Performance and Embedded Architecture and Compilation (HiPEAC), (PDF), Vision 2015
  7. McKinsey Global Institute, The Internet of Things: Mapping the Value Beyond the Hype
  8. Analysis of EPSRC application and student data

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.

Maintain

We aim to maintain this area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC support by research area in microelectronics design (GoW)
Search EPSRC's research and training grants.

Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Sarah Newman
Job title: Portfolio Manager
Department: ICT
Organisation: EPSRC
Telephone: 01793 444581