CSSI Celebrates 25 Years


October 25, 2008

Alumni, colleagues, sponsors and friends gathered last month to celebrate CSSI-25, a quarter century of innovation and education by the Center for Silicon System Implementation - and its partnership with the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC).

In addition to current center director, ECE Professor Shawn Blanton, speakers included Stephen W. Director, the founding director of the SRC-CMU Research Center for Computer-Aided Design, Larry W. Sumney, the first president of the SRC, Ralph K. Cavin III, the first head of the SRC Design Sciences research programs, John Cohn, 1991 alumnus and Chief Scientist, Design Automation at IBM, and John P. Shen, one of the first faculty members in the CAD Center and currently Head of the Nokia Research Center, Palo Alto.

Founded in 1982 as the SRC-CMU Research Center for Excellence in Computer-Aided Design, the CAD Center not only had great impact on the semiconductor industry, but also played a pioneering role in the relationship between universities and industry that still persists to this day.

At the kick-off reception, the history of the Center was summarized by Director, now Provost and Senior Vice President at Northeastern University, and Sumney, who remains President and Chief Executive Officer at the SRC.

Director and Sumney both reminded attendees that the interdisciplinary research and university-industry collaboration at the heart of CSSI today were unheard of when the CAD Center was formed.

"University-industrial partnerships are pretty common today and hardly a college of engineering today would not claim that these concepts are central to their mission," said Director. "But this was not always the case - it certainly wasn't 25 years ago when the CAD Center started. In fact, back then there was a serious disconnect between academia and industry - between what academia produced and what the nation's industry needed."

American industry was losing its dominance. The Carter administration had approved a government bailout of Chrysler Corporation and the U.S. semiconductor industry was in trouble with market share being rapidly lost to the Japanese.

Rather than asking the government for assistance, a number of leading semiconductor companies joined forces to form the SRC, designed to fund research at universities in areas specifically of interest to the industry and to educate a large number of future employees for the industry.

Sumney, was recruited to the presidency of the SRC after holding several positions with the Department of Defense including overall responsibility for the Very High Speed Integrated Circuits (VHSIC) Program, the largest technology development program in the Department of Defense at the time.

At a board meeting, Sumney presented the idea of centers of excellence and "task level" research, smaller grants to individual faculty for specific research, and a call for proposals went out. The CMU ECE CAD Center was awarded one of the first two centers of excellence beginning the productive relationship with the SRC and its industrial affiliates that has endured for the past quarter century.

Ralph Cavin reminded participants of the many successes and awards earned by Center faculty, indicating a legacy of relevance to industry. Cavin noted that the first 13 technical reports published by the SRC were from CMU. Since 1990 when the first SRC technical excellence award was established, a record seven of the 30 awarded have been to Center faculty. And since the Aristotle Award was created in 1995, a record four of the 16 awarded were to Center faculty.

The SRC celebrated its 25th year in 2007 and that same year was awarded the National Medal for Technology and Innovation. "We are very very proud of winning the National Technology Medal," said Cavin. "It's really an award to the whole community. Without the hard work of universities like Carnegie Mellon and many others we couldn't have qualified."

Looking forward Cavin threw out a challenge to today's Center members - a challenge echoed across the planet - "to rethink our technology and rethink our architectures" to reduce power consumption.

Center alumnus John Cohn (1991), Chief Scientist, Design Automation at IBM, has been featured in previous ECE articles because of his humorous and entertaining outreach work with children. But Cohn turned very serious at the reception with his statements about the influence that Center research and graduates have had on IBM and the entire industry.

"There is a huge alumni club inside of IBM," said Cohn, who went on to name a long list of people he immediately thought of in connection with various technical areas at IBM. "It's amazing how influential the CMU CAD program has been in shaping the current landscape of CAD. The technology and the people who came from here are absolutely the foundation of our industry. In fact, CMU innovations contribute in a major way to every machine my company ships."

The growing dominance of mobility devices was part of the topic of John Shen's keynote speech during the dinner following the opening reception. Shen's experiences at Intel and now at Nokia places him in an ideal position to discuss all of the problems the industries involved must solve in order to maximize the user experience. Among other pressing issues, Shen echoed Cavin's earlier challenge to researchers to work towards maximizing energy efficiency.

What will the next 25 years bring? "CSSI is addressing the challenges of the future with a diverse group of researchers and students, focusing on the design and development of more capable integrated systems using new types of nano-technologies and devices, fabrication processes, and system-level design methodologies," said ECE Professor Shawn Blanton, director of CSSI. "Going forward, we believe the next twenty-five years will be just as exciting as the first."

Related People:

Ronald Blanton

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