The Indispensable Technology The Business of Analog The Full-Circuit Classroom Understanding Analog Analog Technology In Brief
THE FULL-CIRCUIT CLASSROOM:
Georgia Tech Continues to Stress both Analog and Digital Education.
by Rick Robinson
ANALOG EXPERTISE is in strong demand just about everywhere.
photo by Gary Meek
Professor Emeritus J. Alvin Connelly helped establish analog education at Georgia Tech at the dawn of the microelectronics era in the late 1960s. (300-dpi JPEG version - 895k)
And that’s probably an understatement.
“There’s a huge worldwide shortage of analog engineers,” says Paul Hasler, an associate professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and a researcher with the Georgia Tech Analog Consortium (GTAC). “It’s rather remarkable.”
Since the late 1960s, the Georgia Institute of Technology has been a major source of analog graduates. At the dawn of transistor technology and the subsequent integrated-circuit (IC) revolution, Tech emphasized analog electronics right alongside digital, says J. Alvin Connelly, professor emeritus in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Connelly recalls arriving at Tech in 1968 in time to take on the nascent analog program. He was soon spending his summers working in industry to glean new course material, and in 1974 he published an early analog integrated-circuit textbook. He went on to develop courses in analog bipolar and CMOS integrated-circuit design, operational amplifiers and low-noise circuit design, among other areas.
In coming to Tech, Connelly joined other electronics faculty such as John Peatman, who was becoming well-known in digital design.
“John covered the digital and I covered the analog, and that gave us kind of a one-two punch in the whole broad field of electronics,” Connelly recalls. Meanwhile, he says, numerous other faculty joined Georgia Tech during those years and added tremendously to the program, including Robert Feeney, Marshall Leach, William Sayle and David Hertling.
“From the beginning,” he says, “the analog electronics program became very popular.”
Staying the Course
In the 1980s, inexpensive digital microprocessors extended programmable computing to everyone, and many predicted the end of fixed-function analog approaches.
Georgia Tech was among a handful of universities that continued to emphasize analog research and education even when many downgraded their analog programs and stopped hiring analog faculty, says Linda Milor, an associate professor in ECE and a GTAC researcher.
“When I was in school in the 1980s, the thinking was that the analog piece would go away,” she says. “Georgia Tech was different, but very few universities were hiring anyone in circuit design. There was an interesting situation where schools had lots of analog courses on their curriculums and nobody to teach them.”
Then the 1990s mobile revolution began, and industry demand soared for communication ICs and other analog chip designs. Analog chips whose virtues include low power consumption that extends battery life became once again a hot area as consumers increasingly snapped up cell phones, PDAs, digital cameras, voice recorders, portable video and many other handheld devices.
In 1989, three Georgia Tech professors Connelly, Phillip Allen and Martin Brooke founded GTAC as a way to forge closer ties with the analog electronics industry. In retrospect, Connelly says, that move was probably even smarter than it looked at the time. It allowed Georgia Tech to strengthen its analog commitment just in time for the analog resurgence.
Recent media coverage in Silicon Valley and elsewhere places Georgia Tech among the elite analog education programs, in such company as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and the University of California-Berkeley. So does program size: by most counts, Georgia Tech has a larger analog faculty and graduates more analog engineers than any other U.S. institution.
The Well-Rounded Student
Today, demand for analog engineers is intense enough that big companies often keep close tabs on graduate programs and offer fellowships and internships to many students. Awaiting those students are very good jobs the highest-paying in the electronics industry, many say.
Gregg Lowe, senior vice president for analog at Texas Instruments, Inc. (TI), recently commented on that analog-heavy corporation’s close relationship with Georgia Tech.
“TI’s contact with the faculty and students at the Georgia Electronic Design Center has given us access to highly trained talent … and serves TI customers well,” he said. “These students’ expertise has provided strong support for our research and development efforts….”
J. Stevenson Kenney, an ECE associate professor and a GTAC faculty member, stresses that analog and digital technology are interdependent. Overall systems design is the prime consideration, he says, with both technologies working together for best results.
“Many of these traditional compartments that we put things into are blurring together,” he says. “Where do digital circuits and algorithms stop and RF circuits begin? They overlap.”
As a result, Kenney says, electrical engineers graduating from Georgia Tech need to be knowledgeable about both analog and digital technology.
“If they’re not utilizing the best approaches to both,” he says, “it’s not going to be an optimum solution.”
J. Alvin Connelly at 404.894.2911 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul Hasler at 404.894.2984 or email@example.com
J. Stevenson Kenney at 404.894.5170 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Marshall Leach at 404.894.2963 or email@example.com
Linda Milor at 404.894.4793 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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Last updated: April 22, 2008