Build a Chip, Industry Ready

April 11, 2023

Most chip design classes only involve computer simulations. This Columbia Engineering class is different. Watch why.

Most engineering classes in integrated circuit (‘chip’) design only involve computer simulations, but this class at Columbia Engineering gives students a decisive edge: industrial fabrication and testing of chips they design from scratch.

In the VLSI Design Lab, Peter Kinget, Bernard J. Lechner Professor of Electrical Engineering, teaches students how to architect and design a custom chip, send it out for fabrication, and debug problems that occur when testing in the real world. VLSI, short for very large-scale integration, is the fabrication of thousands to billions of transistors onto a single silicon microchip. Instead of focusing on just one circuit building block, student teams make many circuit blocks work together into a system to create an application. After they are designed in the spring semester, the chips are manufactured in a 65nm CMOS foundry over the summer for students to test in the fall. Beyond honing their technical skills, students gain valuable experiences in project organization, time management, teamwork and presenting results, key skills to success in industry and research.

Take a look at our VLSI Design Lab students as they demonstrate their chip designs to the class and to a committee of Apple Inc. engineers, some of whom are Engineering School alumni. Apple sponsors the fabrication of the chips and their engineers work closely with the students each step of the way, providing feedback and adding invaluable real-world experience. Students work on applications ranging from audio amplifiers, display drivers, radars, to digital-alarm clocks and heart-rate monitors.