Written by: Haley DeLeon // Apr 11, 2023
Last updated: Apr 11, 2023
What do rice cookers, LED lighting displays, gaming devices, and blood pressure monitors have in common? All of these devices use semiconductors.
Semiconductors are the powerful brains behind a variety of modern technology applications, from medical devices and clean energy to transportation and defense.
They are also among the U.S.’s top five exports. The U.S. semiconductor industry is the worldwide industry leader, with about half of global market share, with sales of $258 billion in 2021, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association.
Semiconductor technology is also projected to be a major player in future tech, such as artificial intelligence.
Learn more about what semiconductors are, how they work, and the career opportunities in the semiconductor industry.
What is Semiconductor Technology, and How Does it Work?
While we won’t get super into the nitty gritty here, a semiconductor is any material that has an electrical conductivity between a conductor (such as copper) and an insulator (such as rubber or glass). The conductivity of a semiconductor can be controlled and modified by introducing impurities or defects into the crystal structure of the material.
The most used semiconductor material is silicon, which is widely used in producing integrated circuits (ICs), also known as microchips. These chips contain multiple transistors, which act as switches that allow the flow of electricity to be controlled, enabling complex electronic functions.
Other common semiconductor materials include germanium, gallium arsenide, and indium phosphide. These materials have unique properties that make them suitable for specific applications, such as high-speed communication systems or solar cells.
There are two basic types of semiconductors:
- An N-type semiconductor is when there is a large number of free electrons or when its conductance is higher
- A P-type semiconductor is when there are less free electrons and when its inductance is lower.
Examples of Semiconductor Technology
Semiconductors have different applications — each with a different purpose or advantage.
- Diodes allow current to flow in only one direction, commonly used in power supplies and lighting applications.
- Transistors act as switches or amplifiers and are a fundamental building block of digital electronics.
- Microprocessors are ICs that contain a CPU, memory, and other circuitry and are the brain of many electronic devices such as computers, smartphones, and home appliances.
- Solar cells convert sunlight into electricity and are made of semiconductor materials like silicon.
- LED lights are semiconductor devices that emit light when a current is applied and are used in lighting applications.
Applications of Semiconductors in Daily Life
Overall, semiconductors are a crucial component in modern electronics, enabling the development of advanced technologies and devices that have transformed many aspects of modern life. A few common uses of semiconductor technology include:
- Computing: The semiconductor industry produces microprocessors and memory chips, which are the primary components in computers, servers, and data centers. These devices are used in various industries, from finance and healthcare to manufacturing and logistics.
- Communications: Semiconductors are used to produce cell phones, satellite systems, and other communication devices. They are also used to create wireless communication systems, network equipment, and other hardware for data transmission.
- Energy: Semiconductors are used in the production of solar cells and other renewable energy systems. Power management applications also use semiconductors, including voltage regulators and power supplies.
- Automotive: Automotive electronics also use semiconductors, including engine control units, sensors, and safety systems. They are also used in electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles.
- Healthcare: Medical imaging, monitoring, and diagnostic equipment, as well as medical implants and devices, use semiconductors.
Career Opportunities in Semiconductor Technology
Given the variety of applications for semiconductor technology, the career opportunities also have a wide range, from manufacturing and engineering to research and development. And by 2030, more than one million additional skilled workers will be needed to meet the demand of the semiconductor industry.
Some potential career paths include:
- Semiconductor engineers design and develop new semiconductor devices, circuits, and systems. They may work on the design, simulation, testing, and optimization of semiconductor devices, and develop new manufacturing processes.
- Process engineers develop and optimize semiconductor manufacturing processes, including photolithography, deposition, and etching. They may also work on process control, yield improvement, and quality control.
- Product engineers ensure that semiconductor products meet customer requirements and specifications. They may work on product testing, failure analysis, and quality control.
- Applications engineers design and implement semiconductor solutions for specific applications. They may provide technical support, product demonstrations, and training to customers.
- Research scientists conduct research in semiconductor technology to develop new materials, devices, and manufacturing processes. They may work in academia, government research labs, or in the private sector.
Pursuing a career in this industry also means potentially working at one of the biggest semiconductor fabrication companies, such as:
- Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC)
Overall, the field of semiconductor technology offers diverse career opportunities for individuals with a background in engineering, physics, chemistry, or materials science. With the continued growth of the semiconductor industry, there is a strong demand for skilled professionals with the right higher educational background and credentials.
Interested in the Semiconductor Technology Industry?
If you come from a STEM background and are looking for a high-growth career field, look no further. USF’s Semiconductor Technology & Manufacturing Graduate Certificate is an online program that equips you with the industry skills required to take on an exciting role in this cutting-edge industry. You’ll learn how to design semiconductor-based devices, circuits, and systems and gain a deeper understanding of the semiconductor manufacturing and fabrication processes.