Professor Strojwas receives 2016 Phil Kaufman Award

Professor Andrzej Strojwas, Carnegie Mellon’s Joseph F. and Nancy Keithley Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has been awarded the 2016 Phil Kaufman Award for Distinguished Contributions to Electronic System Design (EDA). The EDA award was established by the Electronic System Design Alliance to honor significant contributions to the area of electronic design.

Strojwas, an immigrant from Poland and a Carnegie Mellon graduate, received the award for “his pioneering research in the area of design for manufacturing in the semiconductor industry,” according to a university press release. He has been chief technologist of PDF Solutions since 1997 and has served in a variety of other companies, including AT&T Bell Laboratories and Texas Instruments. He has also received many other awards for his publications and was elected IEEE Fellow in 1990.

Much of the significance of his work centers around the design of semiconductor chips, allowing their manufacturing in fabrication labs (also known as fabs) to be more efficient and less costly. He played a key role in integrating the design and manufacturing of chips, processes which were previously mostly separate. Many modern chip designs are based heavily on research work Strojwas and his group have done.
“When we started our research, design and manufacturing were two disjoint areas and very limited information was exchanged between the chip designers and Integrated Circuit (IC) fabrication engineers,” Strojwas said in an interview with The Tartan.

He and some colleagues realized that, besides controlling fab contamination and defects, design issues also contributed to the semiconductor yield. Thus, it was possible to systematically model the semiconductor yield and test the results. His research also yielded information about methods of testing wafers that saved time and money. These processes have become widely adopted by the semiconductor industry.

Initially, the statistical testing processes developed by Strojwas were such a radical departure from the original chip design processes that it took several years for the industry to adopt them, mainly after it started becoming constrained by the ever-shrinking size of chips designed. “As the miniaturization and the rapid increase in the chip complexity progressed, they forced the industry to change and that’s how the Design for Manufacturing had become the necessity,” Strojwas said.

He says that the biggest modern challenge to this field is developing even newer technology for chip design amidst the demands for more miniaturization and more computing power. The smaller the size of the chips, the more difficult and complex the manufacturing process gets. At these kinds of scales, it is difficult to detect and fix any problems that might occur during the manufacturing process.

“You really have to make sure you’re performing close to what you promised your designers,” which is the biggest modern difficulty in this field due to the current limits of the small-sized technology, Strojwas said. At length scales smaller than 20 nanometers, the transistors only get more challenging to manufacture in a cost-effective way.

Something memorable that happened during his research career was when three of his Ph.D. graduate students decided to start the company called PDF Solutions, which Strojwas himself is still involved in. The company has grown rapidly since its founding and today employs about 450 people. It works in a variety of areas, including engineering consulting and working with fabless companies to streamline the process for new technologies to be introduced to the market.

“The environment at PDF has been amazing and I am extremely fortunate that these guys still want me to be involved,” Strojwas said.