At the age of nine, Portland State-based engineer W. Robert “Bob” Daasch lived in northern Minnesota with his grandfather, who once asked Daasch to take apart a lawn mower and then put it back together.
At the age of nine, Portland State-based engineer W. Robert “Bob” Daasch lived in northern Minnesota with his grandfather, who once asked Daasch to take apart a lawn mower and then put it back together. He was unable to do it, but his grandfather wasn’t angry.
“He wanted me to learn the value of taking care in your work,” Daasch said. “It was the drill.”
Years later he helped his grandfather build several houses, but has since moved on to build the tiny but important technological building blocks of our day-to-day lives: semiconductor microchips.
Dr. Daasch is the founder and director of the Portland State University Integrated Circuitry Design and Test Laboratory, which contains about $3 million worth of test research equipment and is one of only a handful in the United States. Daasch’s statistical test research has received national attention.
In November, he will speak before several thousand people at the International Test Conference in Austin, Texas. In collaboration with two of his graduate students, he has received awards for academic research papers and was awarded the Semiconductor Research Corporation 2008 National Technical Merit in Research Award for their research on adaptive test flows for burn-in reduction.
Daasch has taught at Portland State for 23 years. He credits his graduate students for receiving major international awards for papers in their field.
Testing of semiconductor chips for imperfections is important work. Daasch and his colleagues are engaged in ongoing research in efficient and accurate ways to test the ever-changing microchips, which are critical to computers, cell phones, DVD players, iPods, planes, automobiles and satellites.
“They work their way into our lifestyles in every way, from your iPod to the brakes on your car,” said Daasch.
His lab also estimates the lifetime of chips and hopes in the years ahead to be able to design chips that will issue warnings when they are wearing out. This achievement would result in lower replacement costs and unwanted failure.
“GPSes, for example, are extremely valuable for farmers when they plant crops. You can’t have satellites without chips. They permeate our lives,” Daasch said. “We need chips to operate correctly and we need an alert system so we can replace them before they fail, lowering the impact.”
Students who go into the field of researching and testing semiconductor microchips can expect to earn an entry-level salary of approximately $70,000 with a master’s degree and $90,000 with a doctorate. Many get jobs in major corporations like Intel.
“Design and testing is largely a U.S. industry,” Daasch said.
Students in the test lab are also researching ways to make access to testing chips easier. A chip is made up of 10 million to 50 million transistors. The cost of manufacturing one transistor equals the cost for testing, he said. The lab is also looking for more versatility so chips can be used in multiple environments.
“Our students are in the forefront of making this happen,” Daasch said.