The rise of life science interests at IMEC dates back 15 years or so and roughly coincides with a broadening of corporate interest in applying semiconductors to those things of fundamental interest to human beings; health, mobility, environmental comfort, entertainment, whereas prior to that time semiconductor ICs and their development were more of professional and specialist concern.
"It was an important transition. Twenty to thirty years ago semiconductor research enabled the ICT [information and communication technology] revolution. But now semiconductor technology can impact so many other grand challenges. The technology has a broad impact and we at IMEC realized we need to put technology in a social context.
It is notable that at the ITF will include presentations from: Thomas Müller, executive vice president of electronics development at Audi on mobility in 2025; Jay Flatley, executive chairman of Illumina on DNA sequencing; and Matthew Mattina, senior director of machine learning and AI research at ARM.
Van den hove said that in the past there had been relatively few people interested in deep technology and it had often been presented in a negative context. "For example the possibility that Industry 4.0 would involve a loss of jobs. So it is very important to let people know about the positive things we can do; in health, in mobility and elsewhere. We want to create enthusiasm, fascination and passion to ensure we have the students, engineers and executives to take us forward in these directions."
But with the growing ubiquity of electronics there is also an issue of whether various developments are sustainable on a global scale. "There are issues of the scalability of our technology in terms of energy consumption and materials availability in our roadmaps. That is why there is always a drive towards energy reduction and we take into account materials concerns." But van den hove acknowledged there is more to be done to alleviate problems.
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