$2.2M in NASA grants set to establish OSU as a leader in two areas of research
Monday, August 22, 2022
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The School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) has received two grants from NASA that will make Oklahoma State University a leader in the areas of next-generation communication and very-large-scale (VLSI) integrated circuit research.
Two teams of researchers in ECE, housed in the College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology, have received funding to construct an outdoor testing platform for next-gen communication systems as well as funding to develop an open-source environment for the design and construction of integrated circuits.
The next generation of communication testing platform
The team of Drs. Jeffrey Young, John O’Hara, Sabit Ekin and Wooyeol Choi received $1 million in funding for their project: Versatile Experimental Platform for 6G and Beyond Communications and Sensing Innovations. The researchers will create an outdoor, hybrid radio-frequency, millimeter-wave, terahertz and optical experimental platform that will enable the versatile experimentation of 6G and beyond communication and sensing innovations. ECE has already invested approximately $2 million in 6G research and members of the team have secured numerous federal grants totaling millions of dollars to create world class, indoor fast pulse and wideband continuous wave communication and spectroscopy systems. This $1 million project, however, will allow the team to develop and test new communication and sensing architectures that will be deployed in a real world, outdoor environment.
“This apparatus will give us the final tool we need to conduct any next-gen communication research, including propagation measurements, system architecture design, and novel device design,” said Young, the head of ECE. “OSU is becoming the academic leader in this space, as few institutions will have all these assets and expertise under one roof.”
The team currently has access to state-of-the-art, indoor testing equipment, but that presents a very controlled environment. The new platform will allow the researchers to test hypotheses in a real-world setting by sending terahertz signals over multiple kilometers that carry real-world data. The platform will establish OSU as one of the first research entities to have the capabilities to test in this type of environment.
“There’s a lot of vision for 6G communications,” O’Hara said. “But there are very few real-world solutions right now.”
The next generation communications systems will face the challenge of wirelessly transmitting and receiving massive amounts of information found in current communication platforms, such as fiber optics. The challenge is tantamount to “pushing floodwaters through a pinhole,” O’Hara said.
This is just one of the many obstacles the team will face as they dive deeper into the real world application of next-gen communication research. The storage of data and the devices used to convert this data into a usable commodity are, currently, very specialized and very expensive. So how does one scale current “off-the-shelf” technologies to handle the bandwidth of data and still stay cost effective? That question is central to the research task and the answer, per O’Hara, is still yet to be discovered. However, the team has some promising ideas to implement and develop that could accelerate the deployment of the next-gen communication systems within the United States.
The team believes that this next step in communications will have a significant impact on the ability to bring high-speed communication to rural communities that struggle with securing current communication networks, i.e. fiber optic communication, due to their location and the significant cost of installing those networks.
The research and testing of next-generation communication platforms is still in its infancy, but this project will likely secure OSU and its ECE program as a premier research entity for the future of communications. “We’ll have millions of dollars invested in this research,” O’Hara said. “It didn’t come easily, but we’ll be among the best places to test for 6G communication in the world.”
The future of integrated circuits
Drs. James Stine, Bingzhe Li and John Hu were presented with $1.2 million in research funding for their project titled: RAFT (Rapid Assured Fully Transparent IC Physical Design Capability): Infrastructure, Tools & Techniques for the Design of Digital and Analog VLSI Silicon for Enabling Future Research and Innovation.
The overall goal of this project is to design an infrastructure, called “RAFT,” to revitalize the U.S. capability for innovation and exploration of VLSI design, empowering a community of researchers and educators to innovate and work on cutting-edge research issues in the area of integrated-circuit (IC) design.
These researchers intend on empowering the next generation of innovators to engage in microelectronics research by creating a portal to existing resources, new tools, designs and intellectual property. The world of IC design is, up to this point, a very exclusive area of industry driven by a few key entities. RAFT hopes to reach a much larger community and give everyone from an individual interested in IC design to academic institutions access to some key design tools, fabrication contacts, and existing research which will encourage innovation from any source.
NASA is the latest party interested in this research that already has support from industry partners such as Google and SkyWater Technology, as well as academic institutions like the University of Michigan and the University of California–San Diego. They are working toward creating a free-to-access software suite and knowledge base that will be available to anyone interested in IC design, thus eliminating some of the financial burden and steep learning curve associated with the industry.
“I’ve realized that I can help others hopefully find the same passion I have for the subject,” Stine said. “It’s the least I can do, and part of our land-grant mission, to help the next generation of innovators and great thinkers access this knowledge base and software.”
Stine believes this could establish OSU and CEAT as a hub for information and research for IC design and innovation for years to come.
“I want to make OSU a second or third Silicon Valley,” Stine said. “I want us to be the foremost authority on this subject in terms of learning.”
Another component of the project will be STEM outreach, which the group hopes to have help funding via a National Science Foundation grant. The researchers hope that by introducing younger audiences to these intricate components at an early age, will help future generations of innovators understand the importance of IC design and fabrication, thus spurring the development of the next generation of integrated circuits.
“We have been extremely fortunate to attract this level of research talent to ECE and OSU,” Young said. “Both of these grants will provide the basis for world-class research, as well as establishing OSU and ECE as a premier institution in these areas of research.”