Stanford top engineer weighs in on CMOS outlook
I think you will see this expansion happening in Silicon Valley over next decade or two. The Valley will be as known for startups in these other two areas as historically it has been known for IT.
The investments VCs are making in clean tech are just beginning. It's amazing how much of the Valley is already in biotech. It hasn't gotten the publicity yet, but it will become increasingly apparent.
How is Stanford retooling for this new era?
I think we can have as big an impact in clean tech and biotech as we have had on IT.
If you go back ten years, you would have found a few people fabing photovoltaics or working on batteries here, but it was a pretty minor thing. That was driven in part by a lack of federal funding in these areas
Six or eight years ago a few of us put together an industrial consortium on global climate and energy, providing $225 million over ten years in funding for basic research across the whole spectrum of alternative energy that people had to compete for.
Today you will find out of 250 faculties, probably 50 have a footprint in the energy space. It's a night-and-day difference from a decade ago. Our total footprint in energy is still smaller than IT but it's comparable now.
It's a similar situation in biotech with a new bioengineering department created six or seven years ago.
What's the outlook going forward?
The outlook in all three areas¡ªIT, energy and biotech¡ªis incredibly positive. There are almost unlimited opportunities going forward. There will be more companies like Google and Yahoo spun out of this place in the next decade or two in all these areas.
I've been working with our EE and CS departments on the energy opportunities. They have been so successful in IT that they need some persuasion to move into these new areas, but they are doing it. It's hard for them to imagine the world may be changing around them, there is a new set of global problems and opportunities to contribute to and they may not be at top of that mountain.
How is the profession of engineering changing?
What students see as an opportunity is changing.
Ten or twenty years ago they aspired to be computer scientists. Now there's a huge amount of interest in these other areas [of energy and biotech] so to some extent they have led the faculty. They care a lot about the environment and human suffering and want to do something about that.
If you ask them what they want to do, it's not just [to] make a lot of money. The first words out of their mouths are that they want to have an impact and solve some of these problems we need to solve as a planet¡ªand as engineers they can make an impact.
In the energy area, there's a real commitment to figure out sustainable alternative energy solutions, not just for this country but for this planet. In biotech the goal is to dramatically improve health care.
What's changing in education?
We've got to give students a skill set to prepare for a multi-company career. A lot of what we are doing now is creating T-shaped people. The vertical part is deep technical education and the horizontal part is a set of softer skills¡ªcreativity, innovation, the entrepreneurial way to look at work, how to speak and think creatively.
And it's increasingly multidisciplinary work, isn't it?
Yes, most of the interesting research proposals people are working on are multidisciplinary problems involving materials and computing and non-engineering expertise. Getting teams to work together effectively is the only way to tackle these problems. Energy solutions require people who know legal and policy issues as well as technical ones. In biotech you have complex FDA approvals.