eFutures: university research in electronics

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Electrical, Electronic & Computer Eng


There is a strong need for a new network to consolidate electronics research in UK universities. In recent years there have been major changes in technology, as the push for miniaturization has led to components with characteristics far from ideal transistor switches interconnected by wires instantaneously. Today's transistors get too hot, leak current, vary in size and are produced in their billions on chips the size of a thumb nail interconnected relatively slowly by miles of wiring. This creates a formidable challenge for designers, who already face the complexity of design on a bewildering scale. The public have an appetite for all things electronic and demand new and better products year on year. This also creates a challenge for designers and an opportunity for the electronics community. By working together these challenges can be tackled, making the UK's electronics community fit for purpose in the coming years to face critical challenges at the interface between design and technology. Complementing industry facing groups such as the National Microelectronics Institute (NMI) and the Electronics Knowledge Transfer Network (EKTN), the network will form part of a highly visible coordinated alliance to government and the media, who can use it for information, opinion and clarification in this space. This is important for the UK economy as the global electronics market is worth more than a trillion dollars annually. The initial membership will be drawn from the technology community who formed the Si Futures network and those participating in the design Common Vision. Together they represent a significant proportion of the UK academic community. There is a recognition that a broader electronics research community than those included in the previous network grants need to come together.

Planned Impact

The network aims to be the UK hub for university research in the electronics sector. This will provide a clearly defined, authoritative contact point to ensure that the resident UK electronics community is well linked to the academic research base. Benefits may come from new companies, attracting inward investment as well as maintaining the existing design houses, fabs and supply chains. This greater connectivity will result in better knowledge transfer which will benefit the UK electronics commercial sector. It means that they can see experts in fields of direct relevance to their business. It will give smaller companies in particular a better sight of the rapidly changing landscape which they must operate in and adapt to if they are to prosper in the 21st century. It will also facilitate the transition of trained young engineers from academia into industry. University research yields a lot of IP which is not at present being exploited. The network will facilitate many of these issues and so give rise to a higher level of IP exploitation, in the form of more spin-outs and academic/industry joint ventures, which will be of great benefit to the UK economy. Public sector organisations such as TSB and EPSRC need to have a good view of electronics research. This is necessary in order to advise government, to recognise what societal challenges can be met with targeted research from the electronics community and to identify where public funding is needed in order to support new research and to maintain a healthy research base. The network creates a single point of contact, which will be both authoritative and unbiased. The EC require technical input for Framework documents. The network is in an ideal position to meet this demand. It will be sufficiently visible and can be used to solicit views in the UK and to offer the best experts to represent the UK. The network will have a steering group comprising engineers from industry as well as representatives from industry-facing organisations such as the NMI, and EKTN. This steering group allows a direct interface between the network and the commercial sector, which will allow a candid response to the concerns raised in the commercial sector. It also enables the academic community to offer an early awareness of new developments which may help to steer the electronics commercial sector. The network will have a web presence. A who's-who list identifying expertise and facilities at each partner institution will be established and made available on the network web-page. A visitor area will be designed and maintained making use of the resources uploaded by the community, in order to highlight good news research and exploitation. It is anticipated that the web pages will contain press releases which will be of use to the trade press. A series of community wide meetings as well as smaller focussed meetings will be held, which will be open to the academic and industrial communities. In this way we aim to build a broader interface through which meaningful collaborations can be built.


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Description eFutures was formed in 2010, and since its origin has managed to successfully establish itself as the UK hub for university research & networking in the electronics sector. The eFutures network is now widely regarded as the main contact point, connecting lead academics and researchers with industry partners within the electronics community. The network grant set out to address the following specific areas:

• Engage university research with industry, become a single voice for the UK electronics research community

• Co_ordinate UK electronics research

• Communicate UK electronics Research

• Engagement with other communities, creating new partnership arrangements of a cross disciplinary nature, supporting early career researchers (ECR's) & providing cross disciplinary electronic research opportunities

The objectives (as stated above), have been addressed via the following activities :

1) Steering Group

eFutures has a strong and well committed Steering Group comprising lead academics, engineers from industry, as well as representatives from industry-facing & government organisations such as NMI & EKTN. The steering group allows a direct interface between the network and the commercial sector, which allows discussion and responses to challenges facing the commercial sector. This group have worked on providing joined-up solutions to industry wide challenges around funding, design & resources.

2) Organised events

A number of events have been delivered during the duration of the network grant which have supported engagement between university and industry partners and enabled us to establish ourselves as a single voice for the UK electronics research community.

• Academic community events (Oct 2010, Sept 2012, Dec 2013)

Attended by almost 300 people from across academia & industry. Breakout sessions allowed key challenges to be discussed, presentations from recent eFuturesXD award recipients, assisting the development of early career researchers. The output from the sessions now provides the information for future focus.

• Building Bridges to Build Brains (Nov 2012)

Event held in Edinburgh brought together a number of communities; computer scientists, the Microelectronics Design group (mainly engineers), and the INCF - International Neuroinformatics Coordinating Facility - (mainly neuroscientists). Regarded as a huge success by all attendees & a future follow up event was suggested.

• eFutures: beyond Moores law ( May 2013)

International leaders, including D Miller (Stanford), D Ham (Harvard), M Lipson (Cornell) and R Sarpeshkar (MIT) were brought together with experts from the UK to discuss diverse opportunities and methodologies in microelectronics. Aim for the 21st century is to deliver integration of new and non-electronic functionality for optical, chemical and biological systems.

• The Long Arm of Microelectronics (May 2013)

Series of in-depth discussions. A number of the speakers presented summaries of their presentations along with presentations from M Muller (ARM) and J Penders (IMEC) as well as a poster session

2) Web site presence ( link: http://efutures.ac.uk/)

The eFutures web site provides a high quality web presence for the network. Web pages have been viewed over 12,000 times since its launch and in Google searches for eFutures it returns first listed. Key features include a user directory - providing a quick way to identify technical expertise and facilities, areas to publicise news, research highlights or calls for funding, conferences and meetings to be publicised and a forum for real-time discussion of issues and news affecting the community. The website continues to develop to ensure it meets the needs of its members & is regarded as a current place of information sharing on skills and expertise.

3) Network Membership

Membership of the network has been built to a healthy level of almost 370 active members. This represents a significant proportion of the UK academic electronics community particularly in technology and design. Future expansion to new areas such as sensors, power electronics and energy harvesting is now the target and to reach into fields where electronics can play a major role to assist with advances such as healthcare technologies. The membership also enables us to canvass views across the whole spectrum of the academic community from leading academics to early career researchers, as we were able to demonstrated in a recent survey which was undertaken to assess member views on what were considered the Top 6 research challenges facing the electronics industry.

4) Engagement between University & Industry

eFutures has a strong identity within electronics research groups across universities. In addition, there is considerable industrial networking and community development taking place with NMI, KTNs & the TSB. eFutures continues to act as a conduit between industry and academia to help build links, understanding and common research portfolios.

5) eFuturesXD

This is a cross-disciplinary account offering awards to support UK academics in electronics as they initiate collaborative research across their discipline boundary. To date 36 applications have been received and 12 awards given with a total spend of £497,132. and details of the awards are available for viewing on the eFutures website.
Exploitation Route As a network grant, eFutures has succedded in establishing strong links with industry and goverment partners. This was initially achieved by the creation of the Steering Group whose members comprise lead academics and representatives from NMI, KTN's, TSB & ARM. This enables us to reach out to the commercial sector to undertand their key challenges and to identify ways in which the academic community can find solutions. Effective and collaborative working relationships have been developed, resulting in the commercial sector making regular contact with eFutures as the academic 'face' to both support and participate in industry led events.
Sectors Electronics

URL http://efutures.ac.uk/
Description eFuturesXD - crossing the boundaries
Amount £578,602 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/I038357/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2011 
End 05/2015
Description eFutures website 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact The eFutures website provides a high quality web presence for the network. A key feature is the user directory, providing a quick way to identify technical expertise and facilities. Other features include areas to publicise news, research highlights or calls for funding, an events directory allowing relevant conferences and meetings to be publicised and a forum for real-time discussion of issues and news affecting the community. The site's dedicated media portal allows quick access to press releases and expert opinion. Members are also invited to upload news and events as well as a user profile that covers research interests and published papers. A further option is to include an institution profile, which can include facilities and expertise at a given university. It is fully searchable, either using a keyword search or a guided search via institutions or a member's surname.

This outcome does not have an end date as it is an ongoing resource to the community.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
URL http://efutures.ac.uk/