Volume 6, Number 4, 1997

Small department receives big recognition

The promising careers of three young faculty in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering have been recognized and given a financial boost by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through its Faculty Early Career Development Program.

Paul R. Berger, Daniel van der Weide and Xiang-Gen Xia have received base grants of $200,000 over four years, augmented by equipment funds, support for undergraduate researchers and funds to match industry grants through the NSF CAREER program (formerly the Presidential Young Investigator program).

"This is an outstanding accomplishment," says Stuart L. Cooper, dean of the College of Engineering. "It augurs well for the continuing growth and national reputation of our Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering."

Electrical and Computer Engineering is the smallest department in the college, and the three award recipients made up half of the department's assistant professor population last spring. Berger has since been promoted to associate professor.

"In our program, everyone is working above and beyond," Neal Gallagher, chairperson, says. "These CAREER awards are just a sample of what can happen with a talented and motivated group-a group that is strongly supported by a campus administration with vision and a plan."

NSF established the program to help scientists and engineers develop simultaneously their contributions to research and to education early in their careers. According to the agency, "This premier program emphasizes the importance the foundation places on the early development of academic careers dedicated to stimulating the discovery process in which the excitement of research is enhanced by inspired teaching and enthusiastic learning."

Only tenure-track faculty within the first four years of their academic careers are eligible for the awards, with selection of recipients based on research proposals that are submitted to a rigorous peer review process. In 1966, Berger was one of some 350 faculty nationwide chosen from more than 1,800 applicants. Van der Weide and Xia received their awards in 1997 in a similar pool of candidates.

Paul R. Berger

Berger joined the UD faculty in 1992. After earning his Ph.D. in 1990 at the University of Michigan, he spent two years as a postdoctoral student at AT&T Bell Laboratories in the company's Optoelectronic Device Research Department. Berger's CAREER award research focuses on characterization and fabrication of silicon-based alloys for improved-performance, high-speed optical and electronic devices and circuits. Basically, he is attempting to engineer materials with the properties of "III-V" compounds-i.e., those in columns 3 and 5 of the periodic table, including, for example, gallium arsenide and indium phosphide-but with the price and manufacturability of silicon.

His AT&T experience becomes evident when he explains the motivation for this research: "I want to see fiber optics brought into the average person's home. Right now, everyone wants to get on the information highway, but a lot of people are getting stuck on the entrance ramp. We need an economical way of increasing the bandwidth into homes, so that customers can have, for example, high-definition TV on demand at an affordable price. Basically, our goal is to marry the complexity of the Pentium® microprocessor with optics."

Applications for this research also include wireless communications (i.e., cordless and cellular phones and pagers) and future-generation microprocessors.

In selecting CAREER award recipients, NSF also weighs teaching, including innovation in the classroom and involvement of undergraduates in research. Berger easily met these criteria. He has been at UD for less than five years but has already worked with more than a dozen undergraduates in his research programs.

Berger is further involved with students through the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a national professional organization for which he serves as the student chapter adviser. He is currently working to increase the number and kinds of activities for student members of IEEE, including field trips to industrial sites, a resume´ workshop and visiting speakers.

Berger's CAREER award was augmented by a $10,000 NSF award from the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program and a $100,000 equipment award from NSF's research equipment grant program. The latter was matched with an additional $100,000 from University sources. The equipment program is the most selective of NSF's equipment grant programs, with less than a 10 percent "batting average."

Daniel van der Weide

Van der Weide joined the Delaware faculty as an assistant professor in 1995 after earning his master's and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering at Stanford University. His CAREER award focuses on micromachined antennas for localized excitation of nanostructures.

"As integrated circuits grow denser and faster," van der Weide explains, "new computational structures such as single-electron devices are being proposed and explored to address computing." These new systems are both faster and smaller than current instrumentation can address, as van der Weide's World Wide Web site suggests. In a take-off on the state of Delaware's motto ("Smaller. Quicker. Smarter."), the page describing his group's work in localized and high-speed measurements of materials, devices and circuits is headed, "Real small. Real quick."

Van der Weide also received funding to match industry grants, including funds from Ford and W. L. Gore. NSF also awarded him $10,000 in equipment funds, with Hewlett-Packard and Topometrix providing additional equipment grants. Finally, like Berger, he has NSF funds to support two electrical engineering students who are contributing to the development of a suite of tools to implement web-based scientific instrumentation, in effect, creating a virtual laboratory.

"Our goal is attain near-real-time performance and thus maintain the 'feel' of using an instrument even though it is remote," van der Weide explains.

"Undergrads are a crucial part of my research," he says. "The quality of the undergrads at UD is excellent, and they have the particular set of skills and motivation needed to contribute to programs like this. They tend to be more experienced with computer technology and more enthusiastic about short-term projects than graduate students."

Xiang-Gen Xia

Xia earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering at the University of Southern California in 1992 and then worked as a research staff member at Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, Calif., before joining the University in 1996. Xia received bachelor's and master's degrees in his native country, the People's Republic of China, where he received the Chinese National Natural Science Foundation Young Investigator Award. He was also the recipient of the best thesis award in Nanjing Normal University.

In his CAREER project, Xia is using advanced signal processing techniques to address an important problem in current digital communication systems-intersymbol/interchannel interference cancellation.

"The results of the project will significantly improve the performance of modern digital communication systems such as CD/ROMs, hard drives and cellular mobile communication systems," Xia says.

The project brings together several areas-digital signal processing, channel coding and modulation and communication systems-so it will provide up-to-date information for undergraduate and graduate courses in such areas as digital communication systems, error control coding, information theory and data compression and wireless digital communications.

"It is of utmost importance that students be trained well in the rapidly growing multimedia communications area," Xia says. His grant from NSF also includes equipment funds and undergraduate support.

-Diane S. Kukich, AS '73, '84M