Cornell opens RF chip lab with industry help

Ithaca, New York–Nov. 8, 2000–With support from major industrial partners, Cornell University has opened a state-of-the-art laboratory for the design and testing of radio-frequency (RF) integrated circuits (ICs), such as the transceivers in cellular phones and other wireless devices.

The Cornell Broadband Communications Research Laboratory (CBCRL) will be used to train next generation RF engineers and conduct research in the design of future broadband communication systems. CBCRL will include a file server and 25 high-performance RS-6000 workstations valued at $750,000, made possible through an IBM Shared University Research Grant. Students and researchers will have the use of a Model 84000 production quality RF IC test system donated by Agilent Technologies, valued at $1 million, and an RF/microwave 8-inch semiautomatic Model 12101 wafer probe station, valued at $200,000, from Cascade Microtech.

The IBM workstations will run advanced chip-design software donated by Cadence Design Systems Inc. The Cadence donation provides licenses for an extensive suite of design tools to run on up to 50 workstations. If sold to industry, such licenses would be valued at approximately $100 million, the company reports.

IBM also will provide design kits for its state-of-the-art silicon-germanium technology. These design tools, developed in IBM’s Research and Microelectronics Divisions, are of multi-million dollar value, according to IBM.

“This is the equipment they will use on the production floor,” says Kevin Kornegay, Cornell associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, director of CBCRL and organizer of the industrial partnership. “This unique industry/academia partnership addresses a critical need–a major shortage of well-trained RF circuit designers, particularly in the northeast U.S. region.”

Kornegay initially will use the laboratory to teach a new hands-on course in RF integrated circuit design. The course will target the new Bluetooth standard, an industry standard that allows cell phones, computers, personal digital assistants and other appliances to communicate with one another. “With Bluetooth devices,” Kornegay says, “you’ll be able to have your cell phone call your computer and have it start the coffee maker.”

Students enrolled in the course will use the comprehensive set of Cadence design software tools to create a circuit, simulate its operation, and produce the final chip layout. The design work will take up the fall semester of the course. Chips designed by the students will be manufactured over semester break. In the spring, students will test and evaluate their chips, deliver oral presentations, and produce written reports to further enhance their technical communication skills.


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