Zhou developing new RF circuit microchips for next-generation wireless applications

11/1/2021 Laura Schmitt

His research is funded by a highly coveted NSF CAREER award for young faculty.

Written by Laura Schmitt

As the highly touted 5G wireless technology is rolled out nationwide, consumers will have a network 100 times faster than previous networks and they can expect unprecedented download speeds of 20-gigabits-per-second that will enable lightning-fast entertainment downloads, new Internet of Things (IoT) applications, and virtual and augmented reality experiences.

With the proliferation of wireless technologies, however, the electromagnetic spectrum or airwave that carries all wireless signals has become increasingly congested. One important component of 5G and next-generation wireless technology is a radio frequency (RF) signal processing system that allows efficient and secured spectrum utilization in an energy- and cost-efficient way.

Jin Zhou
Jin Zhou

According to ECE Assistant Professor Jin Zhou, existing RF signal-processing systems have their limitations for 5G and beyond.

“Existing RF signal processing systems are inherently rigid and narrowband.” he said. “These characteristics fall short to meet the flexibility and bandwidth requirements of future intelligent and high-speed wireless networks.”

Earlier this year, Zhou received $500,000 from the National Science Foundation through the agency’s coveted CAREER Awards for young faculty to develop a new type of RF circuit that will push the fundamental limits of existing designs.

“Most existing RF circuits are time-invariant,” he said. “In other words, the hardware configuration is fixed during operation. Our approach uses a time-varying circuit on a microchip that periodically changes its configurations, breaking the fundamental limits of bandwidth and flexibilities in existing designs.”

Zhou’s approach also introduces inductors or magnetic fields to time-varying microchip circuits, opening new design spaces for future wireless systems.

Zhou will first develop a framework for time-varying commutated-inductor-capacitor circuits; he will then design and demonstrate new RF systems, which will have unprecedented bandwidth and flexibility.

Aside from the research, CAREER awards also provide funding for education and outreach activities. Zhou plans to incorporate his mathematical analysis and wireless technology research results into existing ECE courses such as Electronic Circuits (ECE 342) and RF IC Design (ECE 498). He will also work with the campus Office for Mathematics, Science and Technology Education on a high school-level introductory RF signal processing curriculum.  

The NSF CAREER Award is the agency’s most prestigious award in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in both research and education and can advance the mission of their respective department or organization.

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This story was published November 1, 2021.