The New England Center for Analog and Mixed Signal Design at WPI
Allegro Microsystems [Worcester, MA]
Analog Devices [Wilmington, MA]
BAE Systems [Nashua, NH]
Texas Instruments (formerly Unitrode) [Manchester,
There is a long tradition of industry-sponsored research and project
in the Electrical and Computer Engineering department at WPI.
In the Analog / Mixed Signal
Research Laboratory, for example, several companies have sponsored
graduate research and/or senior project work. This type of work is
usually targeted to a specific application. For example:
The result of this kind of work is an information
flow similar to that shown in Figure 1. The targeted nature of the
research leads to a close coupling between the sponsoring
company and the Analog Lab. However, due to the targeted nature
of the work, an opportunity for synergistic coupling of
information flow is lost.
This is a shame, since (ultimately) all of the work in
the Analog Lab is linked by a common theme:
understanding fundamental performance limitations (speed, power, noise
sources) in "real world application" circuits and systems. The National
Science Foundation has recognized the
importance of this approach, and has awarded three grants totalling
almost $500,000 toward equipment
and research in the Analog Lab.
- Graduate work sponsored by former sponsor EG&G Reticon led to
development of an integrated
for use in the analog signal processing chain of EG&G Reticon's CCD
- A senior project sponsored by Unitrode led to development of
application circuitry for a BiCMOS pulse-width-modulator
The purpose of this Center is to take advantage of this
common theme, and to create an environment
where all sponsors can take maximum advantage of their
common interest in mixed signal integrated circuit and system design.
The goal is an environment in which information and contact
can flow freely among all members, as shown in Figure 2.
Note that this center is intended to complement targeted research,
not replace it.
The Center faculty and laboratory facilities
will continue to be available for
separately funded, company-specific graduate research. Companies
wishing to sponsor
targeted research will benefit from membership
in the Center, since students working in the Center
will be familiar with the relevant areas of
technology, giving them a "head start" in the early phase of their
A more detailed description of the Center is available
in this presentation (PDF format 37K).
WPI will create a center for research into all aspects of mixed signal
integrated circuit and system design. The Center will be supported by a
from companies with a presence in New England. The Center
will support the
complete mixed signal integrated circuit and system design process:
The center will be a tremendous enabling resource for students to
"complete the loop" for the entire mixed signal
and system design process - just the way it's done in the "real world".
- Design with full CAD support:
- schematic capture
- layout, verification
- process simulation when necessary
- Member companies, if desired
- Test and characterization:
- Full speed time / frequency domain testing
- Device characterization and modeling
Research and project topics will be proposed by
the member companies.
An industry Advisory Board, composed of representatives from the member
companies, will make the final decision regarding which projects will
There will be numerous benefits for the member companies:
- Access to graduating seniors, M.S. students
- Each year there will be about 15 students working
in the lab, on a combination of research and project work
in mixed signal design.
- Increase pool of students with mixed signal design
- Experience has shown that an active research center creates an
atmosphere of excitement and student
interest in the center's field. Even for students who are not working
directly in the lab, there
will be an increase in interest for mixed signal design.
- More awareness of your company among all students in ECE
- Similarly, an active research center creates an atmosphere of
excitement about the companies who are sponsoring
research and project work.
This helps to create a positive "word-of-mouth" among students
that has proven to be a far more effective recommendation for your
company than any brochure!
- Influence direction of research
- For member companies with an expertise in specific subdisciplines
of mixed signal design, membership
in the Center offers an opportunity to influence the choice
of research projects, and thus the direction of future research.
- Awareness of and access to new technologies
- Participation in the Center's research activites is a quick,
low-cost way for member companies to get "up to speed" in other new
areas of technology development
- Influence curriculum development
- New graduate courses are constantly under development to serve
needs of ongoing research in the department.
- Twice-yearly meetings offer a chance to get together with your
from other companies.
The Industrial Advisory Board consists of representatives from
each member company. The Advisory Board meets twice each year,
to review progress in ongoing research and choose projects
for future research. Companies may send as many representatives
as desired to the Advisory Board Meetings; however, the payment of
membership fees determines how many votes the
company has in the process for determining the research projects
to be supported (see "Choosing Research/Projects for Upcoming Year"
Membership requires payment of an annual fee of $35,000.
All membership fees support the research activities of
the Center - no indirect costs are charged.
The general purpose of the twice-yearly meetings are to present
completed research, update status for ongoing work,
and choose future research topics.
The fall meeting, which takes place in early October, is
more oriented toward determining general research priorities,
and updating status of work in
- Status of Work in Progress
- Graduate research projects will typically have been in progress
for at least
six months, so there will
be a substantial amount of progress to report.
The function of the student presentation will
be similar to a critical design review (although
not nearly so exhaustive in scope), since critical project milestones
(for example, tapeout for IC fabrication)
are often scheduled to occur soon after the fall meeeting.
Undergraduate projects will have been in progress for
only one month, so the function of the presentation
is to make sure that the students have begun their
project "on the right track."
- Determining General Research Priorities
- At this meeting, member companies provide input regarding
research and project areas are of importance to them.
Then the members and the Center faculty
will work together to come up with a number of different
project proposals. Given that there are multiple projects
in progress at a time (at least four undergraduate and a varying number
it is hoped that a dozen or more project ideas could
be generated at the fall meeting. In the time between
the fall and spring meeting, the Center faculty will
recruit students for various projects, so that informed
decisions regarding choice of projects can be made at the spring
The spring meeting, which takes place in mid-April, is oriented toward
presentation of work that is being
completed, and choosing the work to be done in the coming year.
- Presentation of Completed Work: Poster Session
- The results of student research projects will be presented at
a poster session. This gives the students exposure to a
formal presentation environment, while maintaining an atmosphere
that allows industry representatives to mix with several different
groups of students.
The poster session will also be open to undergraduates and
graduate students; indeed, the event will be advertised to them
and their attendance will be encouraged. This will provide
"recruiting" opportunities for the projects that will
take place in the upcoming year. First year
grad students will get a chance to see the type of research that is in
progress at the Center. Juniors will also have a chance to
see the type of senior project work that is being done.
- Choosing Research/Projects for Upcoming Year
- The Center faculty will present the proposed projects for the
year, as well as any other information that might be relevant to the
project selection process - for example, if a particularly
outstanding student had expressed an interest in a certain
After the faculty presentations are completed, the
Advisory Board will vote on which projects will be carried out.
Each membership is entitled to a number of votes equal to
the total number of projects that will be supported.
if there are to be 4 undergraduate projects and 4 graduate projects,
then each membership would have 8 votes to cast among the possible
projects. The top 4 projects in each category that received the
most votes would be
the projects that would proceed.
pay for multiple memberships if desired, which would provide them
with proportionally more votes in the selection process.
The initial goal for quantity of research will be 4 senior projects and
4 graduate students per year. This should be
sustainable given the anticipated membership and personnel.
Following is a description of the types of work that will
It is anticipated that most of the graduate work will be Master's
level work, with a project duration of 2 years. The student will
Center support (tuition plus stipend) for a 12-month period, usually
at the end of the M.S. thesis process. Follow
this link for an overview of the typical path
to the M.S. degree.
certainly be open to the possibility of Ph.D.-level work when
appropriate - for example, if a "big research" project and a student
seeking the Ph.D. coincide. In general, however, the "pure research"
type of projects traditionally associated with the Ph.D. will not be
the prime focus of the Center's research activities. For examples
of previous projects, an archive of
selected MS thesis work is available.
Undergraduate Project Work
in mixed signal microelectronics typically involve design, fabrication,
and test of application circuitry for mixed signal ICs. For
examples of previous work, an archive of
selected project reports is available.
Following is a typical timetable for a senior project
that would involve design, fabrication, and test of application
circuitry for an integrated circuit. Note that the selection
process begins prior to the senior year, allowing companies the option
of bringing one or more students into a summer internship if desired.
Typical Timeline for an Undergraduate Project
|Recruit three-student project teams
Choose projects to be supported
|Opportunity for student
internship at sponsoring company (optional)
|Complete background research and preliminary
in preparation for October meeting
Present project status to Advisory Board
|Complete design and fabrication of prototype
Complete project report documentation
Presentation of results to Advisory Board
Faculty and Research / Advising Interests
- Analog Electronics
- Power Electronics
- Automotive (Sensor and Actuator) Electronics
- Signal processing applications
- Cooperative communication in networks
- Interference mitigation for multi-user communication systems
- Adaptive channel equalization
- Embedded Systems
- Microcontroller-based Mixed Signal Systems
- RF circuit design
- Electromagnetic and acoustic Nondestructive Evaluation
- Mixed signal integrated circuit design.
- Self-calibrating ADCs
The Analog / Mixed Signal
Research Laboratory comprises instrumentation, workstations, and
software for the complete integrated circuit design process.
Full CAD software tools are available for
schematic capture, simulation, layout, parasitic extraction, and
layout-vs.-schematic verification. Fabrication facilities are available
through MOSIS and the
industry partners. The equipment required to test the fabricated
circuits (thereby verifying the
design principles and completing the design process) has been purchased
with a grant awarded by the
National Science Foundation under the CISE
Research Instrumentation Grant program. The lab is a tremendous
enabling resource for test
and evaluation to "complete the loop" for the design process. Since the
instrumentation capability extends to
2.5GHz speeds, this lab will be a valuable resource for many years to
come. A "Virtual Tour" of the Analog Lab
is available, covering the instrumentation in the lab
and the various measurement capabilities provided.