I got a call early this morning. A friend had an extra ticket for President Obama’s speech at North Carolina State University and was wondering if I wanted to go. It was an easy decision. How often do you get to see the President of the United State in person? It may be less than an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
On this day, the President was here to announce a new institute to be based at North Carolina State University titled the “Next Generation Power Electronics Institute”. According a White House press release, this is the first of a series of three new manufacturing institutes, which was proposed by President Obama during his 2013 State of the Union address. Each institute is designed to bring together companies, universities, and other academic and training institutions.
The initiative was launched as a competition, and the first was won by a group led by North Carolina State University. In the partnership, the Department of Energy will contribute $70 million over five years, which will be matched by another $70 million from the winning team of businesses and universities, along with the state of North Carolina.
In this new “Next Generation Power Electronics Institute”, the winning team will develop the next generation of ‘wide bandgap semiconductors’. Obama teased the crowd by asking if anyone knew what a ‘wide bandgap semiconductor’ was, and how he had just been learning about them himself earlier that day in his tour of the company Vacon. Obama said that the wide bandgap semiconductors are special, because they use up to 90 percent less power than normal semiconductors.
It was good to see this public-private initiative happen, because it seemed so non-partisan. While government money is being spent, it is not huge, and it helps to form a partnership between the product inventors and researchers, and its potential producers and users. Obama put the initiative within the context of globalization, stating that if the U.S. wants to have the good jobs of the future it has to compete with the other countries of the world and be the first to create and make the best of high tech products such as the wide bandgap semiconductor.