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'Texas really started the whole revolution' | State continues to lead the US semiconductor chip industry

Semiconductor chips make modern technology function. Almost all of them are as small as a speck of dust.

Mike Marut (KVUE)

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Published: 6:37 AM CDT September 9, 2022
Updated: 10:13 AM CDT September 9, 2022

Semiconductors have dominated headlines since the pandemic started in March 2020, most commonly in reference to the global chip shortage. The microscopic computer chips control the creature comforts of modern society as well as lead national security, from the touchscreens on our phones to the navigation systems on war missiles.

"I've learned that basically everything with an on-off switch has chips in it," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said.

Cornyn's not wrong. For example, the car you drive has thousands of semiconductor chips controlling pretty much every single major function, from the brightness of the radio display to updating the digital odometer. They are the fourth-most traded good in the world behind crude oil, processed oil and cars.

Texas has a deep history in the semiconductor industry. The creator of the modern semiconductor chip made the first integrated circuit in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. And a group of semiconductor industry leaders under the name SEMATECH called Austin home.

"In the '90s, there was an organization called SEMATECH that operated out of Central Texas, and it really was a consortium of new technologies to support the industry all over the world," said Robb Misso, the VP of CelLink Corporation. "It was something that we were very proud of."

Despite the near-constant semiconductor headlines, leaders in the industry say many don't comprehend how wide-reaching and important the sector has become.

"The semiconductor ecosystem [includes] many important parts of our economy. For example: cloud represented by companies like Microsoft and Google, consumer electronics are represented by Apple and companies like that. And then even electric cars [are] represented by companies like Tesla, which have a lot of compute. So a car is no longer just a vehicle, it is also a computing device in many ways because it has a lot of sensors," said Dr. SV Sreenivasan, the head of the Texas Institute of Electronics at the University of Texas at Austin.

"All of these important industries – automotive, cloud, [artificial intelligence], consumer electronics and even areas like industrial electronics and health care applications like wearables and then aerospace – these are all areas where semiconductor fabrication is a very important driver for all of these things," Sreenivasan added. "This is not just a supply chain issue. It's also staying at the leading edge because, you know, if you fall behind in the way these chips are made, then the entire ecosystem suffers."

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