Invent a Chip: Microelectronics produced by the next generation

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Secondary school students took part in a globally unique microelectronic development competition for the 18th time. The winners recently picked up their prizes in Berlin. Congratulations from electronica!

Microelectronics is one of the key technologies in every industrial nation. But it needs highly qualified specialists to fend off international competitors. This is why countries must get people excited about fascinating professional careers in this fast-paced industry.

One way to do so includes competitions like Invent a Chip. Since 2002, the German Ministry of Education and Research and the VDE technology organization have been encouraging secondary school students to submit their own ideas for microchips.

This year’s chip-idea winners emerged from a field of about 1,600 students from grades eight through 13. In addition to cash prizes, the award winners will have an opportunity to compete for a scholarship, make contacts to industry and universities as well as receive invitations to project presentations at trade fairs and technical conferences.

In May 2019, 10 selected teams from Invent a Chip met at the Institute of Microelectronic Systems at the Leibniz University in Hannover. They had an opportunity here to learn how chip design works and how ideas can be implemented with a FPGA board.

Invent a Chip – the winners

The first-place award worth €3,000 went to Finn Liebner (16) of the Marie-Curie-Gymnasium in Kirchzarten for his project called “Data-rich light.” He used a model to demonstrate chip-controlled light fidelity with transmission rates of several terabits per second. This alternative transmission medium is becoming increasingly attractive as a result of the growth of channel occupancy in radio frequencies, a situation that could result in mutual interference.

The second-place prize worth €2,000 went to the two siblings Tara (16) and Connor (14) Albrecht of Gymnasium Lindlar. They developed an “intelligent” cat door equipped with 24 infrared light beams and direct control by a chip that the two teenagers designed for this very purpose. The system does such things as prevent cats from being shut out if they have a mouse in their mouths when they try to enter the door, among other things.

The third-place prize worth €1,000 went to another team from Gymnasium Lindlar in the northwestern German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Andreas Kisters (15), Justus Lau (15), Tom Marter (16) and Fabian Weinand (14) developed an intelligent medication-management system called “MediController.” The system alerts patients when it is time for them to take their medication. The device identifies users with the help of key cards, a feature that facilitates the administration of a virtually unlimited amount of patient data.

The special prize of the German research ministry worth €2,000 went to Sebastian Fritsch (17), Simon Klier (17), Christian Künzle (17) and Jan-Niklas Weghorn (17) of the Hardenberg-Gymnasium in Fürth. In the open-source project “RISCkant,” they presented an accelerator for artificial intelligence that optimizes automatic image recognition. This system can be used by robots, drones or vehicles with high-performance image recognition systems while using small amounts of electricity.

It is hoped that as many of the competitors as possible will continue to pursue their microelectronic interests and that their enthusiasm will prompt them to major in this area in college. The students from the Hardenberg-Gymnasium in Fürth are definitely planning to study electrical engineering or computer science once they enter college.




Invent a Chip (Image: VDE/Henning Schacht).

The winners of the secondary school competition Invent a Chip 2019. (Image: VDE/Henning Schacht).