What do rice cookers, smartphones and ATMs have in common, other than making our lives easier? They’re each made possible by a tiny piece of technology called a semiconductor.
“Semiconductors are the brain of modern technology,” said Vice President Kamala Harris as she addressed a crowd in Sunnyvale on May 22.
Harris had touched down at Mountain View’s Moffett Federal Airfield earlier that morning to speak with local tech executives about the importance of investing in semiconductor research and development, something the Biden-Harris administration has poured billions of dollars into.
The vice president was also there to honor Silicon Valley-based company Applied Materials, which announced on May 22 that it will invest $4 billion in a massive new semiconductor research and development facility in Sunnyvale -- a commitment made possible by incentives offered in the CHIPS and Science Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law last year.
Semiconductors, sometimes called microchips, are “small chips of silicon, usually no larger than a fingernail, and no thicker than a piece of paper,” Harris said. “And they’re essential to every electronic device that we currently use, from computers to televisions to air conditioners and washing machines.”
In fact, Silicon Valley got its famed moniker following the rise of silicon semiconductor chip manufacturing in the area in the mid-20th century.
“As indispensable as semiconductors are today, they will become even more important in the future,” Harris said. “Across America, scientists and entrepreneurs are working to develop technology that will transform our world.”
From solar panels to wind turbines, satellite networks to artificial intelligence, new and emerging technologies will all require semiconductors that are “more compact, more efficient, more powerful and more affordable,” Harris said.
But in the last few years, delivering on this growing need for microchips has proven challenging. Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain disruptions and changes in people’s everyday habits led the demand for semiconductors to exceed the supply. As Fortune reported at the height of the shortage in 2021, the dearth of computer chips was “crippling players in industries as diverse and far afield as automotives and smartphones.”
The shortage led the Biden-Harris administration to sign the CHIPS (Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors) and Science Act in mid-2022, investing billions in American semiconductor research, development and manufacturing.
“America invented the semiconductor, but today produces about 10% of the world’s supply – and none of the most advanced chips,” according to a White House fact sheet about the legislation. “The CHIPS and Science Act will unlock hundreds of billions more in private sector semiconductor investment across the country, including production essential to national defense and critical sectors.”
Applied Materials, where Harris gave her remarks, is a leading innovator in the semiconductor industry. The company’s new $4 billion Sunnyvale facility is expected to come online by early 2026, and once complete, will be the world’s “largest and most advanced facility for collaborative semiconductor process technology and manufacturing equipment research and development,” Applied Materials said in a statement. The new facility is contingent on support and incentives from the federal government offered through the CHIPS and Science Act, the company said.
The new center is expected to employ up to 1,500 workers during construction and create up to 2,000 new engineering jobs in Silicon Valley.
“Since the early days of Sunnyvale, America has led the world in semiconductor research and development,” Harris said. “To build a better future, we must continue that leadership to make sure America’s innovators have the support they need to design and build better semiconductors.”