November 22, 2000

Cornell Opens New Telecommunications Laboratory

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With the endorsements of four major telecommunications corporations, Cornell University recently opened a technologically advanced laboratory for designing and testing radio-frequency (RF) integrated circuits. These circuits include gadgets such as the transceivers in cellular phones and other wireless devices.

“It’s taken about a year to get all the pieces together,” said James S. Thorp, director of the electrical and computer engineering department, referring to the timeline between forming the partnership with the companies and producing the equipment for use at Cornell.

Named the Cornell Broadband Communications Research Laboratory (CBCRL), the facility will be used for future research and for training the next generation of RF engineers. The equipment was donated by the IBM Corporation, Agilent Technologies, Cascade Microtech Inc., and Cadence Design Systems Inc.

“This new venture will help to continue to recruit high-quality students for the undergraduate and graduate programs, secure additional funding from industry and the government, and assist in faculty recruitment,” said Prof. Kevin Kornegay, electrical and computer engineering, and director of CBCRL and organizer of the industrial partnership.

The laboratory will also include a file server and 25 top-notch RS-6000 workstations estimated to be worth $750,000. Students and researchers will also have access to a high-tech RF integrated circuit test system donated by Agilent Technologies, valued at $1 million, as well as an RF/microwave probe station, valued at $200,000, from Cascade Microtech.

Futuristic chip-design software for the IBM workstations was donated by Cadence Design Systems Inc., the largest supplier of electronic design automation products. This donation provides licenses for design tools to run on over 50 workstations. The company claims that if sold to industry, these licenses would be valued at approximately $100 million.

IBM Corp., the world’s largest information technology provider, has also provided design kits, developed in IBM’s Research and Microelectronics Divisions, that represent its state-of-the-art silicon-germanium technology. According to IBM, these design tools are of multi-million dollar value.

“The value of this lab indicates the significance and importance [of this partnership], and how the industry feels about this area,” Kornegay said.

“It is good to have something recent. The high-end software will benefit students because it is what they will encounter in the industry. And companies will benefit by training potential employees,” said Robert Beaver, manager of computer operations in the department of electrical and computer engineering.

“It’s a win-win situation,” Thorp said.

Kornegay is currently using the laboratory to teach a new hands-on year-long course in RF integrated circuit design, a class at the graduate level consisting of about 30 students.

This semester students are using the complete set of Cadence design software tools to create a circuit, simulate its operation and generate the final chip layout. The student-designed chips will then be manufactured over winter break. In the spring, students will test and evaluate these chips, followed by oral presentations and written reports aimed at improving students’ technical communications skills.

“The difference [with Kornegay’s lab] isn’t just having the equipment to do academic activities on. It also gives the students real-world design and experience,” Thorp said.

The design, fabrication, and testing of other things such as converters has been going on for years, he said. However, “it is the first time for RF circuit design.”

Kornegay also plans to use the facilities for research purposes, particularly for wireless communications system design. The goal is to decrease the size and power requirements by more inventive system architecture and circuit design, he explained.

Archived article by Ritu Gupta