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Cadence is always continuing to build our diverse and inclusive culture, especially by adding more women engineers to our teams. Several programs are dedicated to encouraging women in STEM like, the Cadence Women in Technology Scholarship program, sponsoring “Girls Who Code” and inviting girls on campus for the Summer Immersion Program, and supporting our current women engineers through the Women@Cadence group. In Germany the traditional day to attract young girls studying STEM subjects is simply called Girls' Day and it is supported by the German Ministry of Education and Germany Ministry for Families. By the way, there is also a Boys' Day, which is usually on the same day as Girls Day, where the boys can explore professions, which are mostly executed by women, like primary school teacher or nurse.
Cadence has been participating for years in Girls Day, we have invited high school girls from schools in the neighborhood to introduce the company to them, answer their questions, share what to study in order to become an engineer and explore practical exercises like taking apart some old mobile phones to see what is inside.
But what can be done when everything needs to happen online? The office building is closed and taking apart mobile phones isn’t an option, but the event must be attractive enough that no one falls asleep in front of the computer.
After some brainstorming, we came up with an idea for a completely virtual Girls Day that is still attractive to the younger generation.
What’s very attractive to the younger generation is the game Minecraft. Minecraft is available for virtually every gaming platform and has been sold more than 200 million times, which makes it the most successful game of all time . For the readers who don’t have kids at home, Minecraft is an open-world game without a defined aim. The player can build something, can fight against monsters or other players, plant, harvest and mine, explore worlds created by other players, and much more. So, it would be just logical to connect Minecraft, Girls Day and EDA.
Fortunately, Minecraft has a building part called Redstone, which is a conducting element. There are switches which light up lamps or torches if no current is flowing and go off if current is flowing through Redstone. Using these elements, the player is equipped to build digital circuits, which can start as an inverter and end up as full 4 core 8-bit processors, as this YouTube videos shows. YouTube and Minecraft have a symbiotic relationship, YouTube is full of Minecraft explanation videos.
Using a torch as energy source
During the Girls Day, the attendees first got an understanding of how a computer works, what a binary system is, what input and output devices are, and what happens inside a computer and processor. Once they understood that the processor is, well, processing binary streams, logic gates came into play, like: WIRE, NOT, AND, OR. These gates can be easily implemented using Redstone. When it comes to a more complex gate like XOR, it is even possible to demonstrate that there are several variants of how an XOR can be built, so these young women, engineers demonstrated an important capability – to use optimal resources.
Optimized 2D XOR cell
The advantage of Minecraft compared to traditional IC design flow is the 3D capability, making it possible to build a 3D XOR. Now we are entering cutting-edge research, since IMEC and the likes promise that 1nm and below technologies will be 3D as well. Even a ring oscillator is possible, which brings the topic of timing into play.
When asked for the reasons, why the girls have selected Cadence for attending Girls Day, some of the answers were because of the Minecraft part. Some of them were already familiar with the game, while the others had hardly issues to understand the game flow, and all of them were able to master first gates. In the feedback round, the attendees were very positive about this experience and no one was scared away now that they got some insight into the work of an engineer. Another positive aspect was that the participants have registered from all over Germany, not just from the schools in the neighborhood.
For educational purposes I’ve created a map where some of the logic gates have been implemented. You can download the map using the link at the bottom of this article. In order to run the map, a Minecraft server is needed, which can be downloaded here. Simply copy the server.jar into the map directory and start the server with: java -Xms1024M -Xmx1024M -jar server.jar nogui. After the server starts, you can connect to the server using the full version of JAVA Minecraft, which is available for Windows, MacOS and Linux.
Have fun learning EDA with Minecraft and Redstone.