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Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) Opportunity For Engineering Students

TCNJ Engineering students are now being offered an opportunity that not many undergraduate engineers get to experience. Our students now have the unique opportunity to learn and create their own custom microchip designs by using an industry-standard software for completing a series of Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) designs.  The VLSI design process involves the conversion of what would otherwise be bulky circuit designs into highly compact circuits.

The course is organized into a series of hands-on and practical design experiences, where the use of the Cadence software results in viable Si-based designs that could be sent away and fabricated onto a silicon (Si) chip. The final product is much smaller than traditional hardware and typically performs at a much higher level (i.e. faster, lower power consumption, smaller space taken up and lower cost). Ten years ago only large companies could afford the 10’s of millions of dollars needed to fabricate designs using Si-technology.  Now both medium and small companies can afford to produce Si-based circuit designs.  Since access to this technology is expanding to medium and smaller companies, designing VLSI circuits is a very valuable skill for TCNJ engineering students to learn and experience, using the same Cadence software that industry uses.  

Dr. Orlando Hernandez, an Associate Professor of the Electrical and Computer Department, teaches the VLSI Design course and utilizes his 10 years of experience in industry working with Si chip design (mostly at Texas Instruments).  “Anything you can put batteries in or can plug into the wall is going to have Si-based semiconductor components in it. That’s pretty much everything that basically we use in our lives to make it more convenient, productive and better. I think it’s a very fruitful type of field for computer and electrical engineering students. It’s an industry that’s fast paced but also very rewarding.” Dr. Hernandez is excited to expose students to not only an interesting subject through a hands-on approach but also to what’s at the forefront of technology today. 

To get a better sense of how circuit performance can improve when converted into Si-based design, Dr. Steve O’Brien, Interim Dean of the School of Engineering, gives an analogy:  “Think about a human being running a 100 m long race. The fastest humans can complete such a race in about 9 seconds. Now ask a human being to run the 100 m race in one-tenth of a second. Humans obviously can not do that, but in silicon, we can. We can easily get things that are 100 times faster if we commit our design to silicon. It’s like working in the realm of magic.” 

– Anisa Lateef ‘22

Dr. Orlando Hernandez
Dr. Orlando Hernandez