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DARPA’s mission under the leadership of alumnus Tony Tether ’64 resonates with the Institute’s priorities as stated in The Rensselaer Plan.

The research DARPA supports at Rensselaer aligns to the university’s strategic initiatives in information technology (projects in networking, pervasive computing, and new types of micro- and nanoscale devices) and in biotechnology (sensors and other technologies at the intersection of biology, information technology, and the physical sciences), says Arthur Sanderson, vice president for research.

Although DARPA contracts account for less than 10 percent of research activity on campus, the agency is a valuable partner, Sanderson says. DARPA, with the armed services’ R&D organizations, is “one of those important agencies that work with universities on basic research and continue that support through development of applications,” he says.

In other words, the agency identifies a need, and then supports work to satisfy it.
Following is a rundown of some of Rensselaer’s current DARPA-funded research projects:

Paul Chow ’82, professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering (ECSE), leads a team of Rensselaer researchers developing efficient electronic switches for high-power applications.

Modern combat vehicles, such as tanks and reconnaissance vehicles, use hybrid diesel-electric drives, which are energy efficient and easier to control, as well as less vulnerable, than purely mechanical drive systems, Chow says. They do, however, require semiconductor switches that can handle hundred-kilowatt to megawatt-scale loads.

Chow’s team is developing power switches based on silicon carbide, a specialty semiconductor that is under study within Rensselaer’s Center for Power Electronics Systems. These switches will, he says, be more efficient than today’s silicon-based switches and able to operate at higher temperatures, reducing the need for equipment cooling. Besides land vehicles, these SiC devices also have a big impact on power electronics systems in naval ships and airplanes.

Shivkumar Kalyanaraman, assistant professor of ECSE, has participated in several DARPA-funded projects at Rensselaer related to computer networking, and recently received funding for a new one.

The new project, titled “Measurement Driven Overlay Quality of Service Control Using Closed-Loop Techniques,” unites his earlier work in two areas: quality of service, which means providing different levels of service to different user segments, and solving problems of network congestion.

The new techniques he is developing will allow quality-of-service controls to be overlaid onto existing networks.

He also has a vision for networks of embedded systems, the computing systems built into military hardware, which may become still another project for DARPA.

John McDonald, professor of ECSE, began working on DARPA projects to develop faster computer chips more than a decade ago.

In several projects, he says, the focus was on designing circuits using DARPA-sponsored advanced fabrication processes, first for gallium arsenide semiconductors, and more recently for silicon germanium.

Now, his team is working on high-speed, field-programmable circuits, what he calls “soft hardware.” Such circuits, he says, will be generic gate arrays that can be reconfigured dynamically to serve different functions. Made with SiGe, the circuits will be able to “change personalities on a dime,” he says.

McDonald also is working with Ronald Gutmann, professor of ECSE, on another DARPA project exploring techniques for assembling multi-level chips, including chips with different types of layers, providing electronic and photonic circuits on a single chip.

Michael Shur’s first DARPA project expanded a system he and three colleagues had developed.

The system, called AIM-Spice, is used to model sub-micron electronic circuits. DARPA funding allowed the team to add photonic systems to the simulator.

Shur, the Patricia W. and C. Sheldon Roberts ’48 Professor of Solid State Electronics, currently is working on plasma wave electronics, circuits that would function not on the flow of electrons, as current systems do, but on waves traveling through the electrons. Such circuits, which would operate at exceedingly high frequencies, would be useful for detectors and for short-range communication, he says.

Shur also is a subcontractor on three other projects. One project is related to printing nanostructures onto surfaces. The second focuses on building high-power amplifiers using nitride semiconductors, and the third deals with ultraviolet light-emitting diodes for detection of biological hazardous agents.

Boleslaw Szymanski, professor of computer science, leads a current DARPA project and has been involved in a series of others in the area of computer networks. In the first project, he and two colleagues worked with Lucent Technologies on distributed measurements of network performance and prediction of network problems. The technology developed in this project became a basis for the company, Premonitia Inc., started last year with the help of Rensselaer alumni.

A second project focused on use of simulation to evaluate and choose the best available set of parameters for the current network operating point. Another project focuses on the scalability of network simulation and modeling of network traffic. The Genesis simulation system developed by Szymanski’s team enables online, collaborative simulation of wired and wireless networks in support of automated network management.

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Rensselaer Magazine: June 2002
President's View Your Mail From the Archives Hawk Talk Class Notes Features
Front Page At Rensselaer Milestones
In Memoriam Making a Difference Staying Connected
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