Jacobs School Rolls Out World-Record Silicon Chip

    Scientists at UCSD’s Jacobs School of Engineering have
    developed a first-of-its-kind computer chip that acts as a powerful miniature
    electronic version of a satellite dish, a discovery that could dramatically
    improve military applications such as radar and missile tracking.

    The device, called a phased array, is a broadcasting or
    receiving mechanism that contains many small antennas. The signals sent to each
    of these antennas are delayed, and their phase is shifted in a specific pattern
    that electronically simulates the signal delay of a physically curved satellite

    Phased arrays have an advantage over normal antennas because
    they can selectively receive or broadcast signals in one particular direction.
    This decreases interference from other signals and increases the speed of data

    The military, which uses phased arrays in radar systems,
    depends heavily on the speed at which a phased array can electronically
    “swivel.” While tracking a missile, for example, there may be no time to
    manually turn an antenna.

    The chip represents a revolution in phased array technology
    with its unprecedented complexity and small size.

    Until now, phased arrays had mostly been used for military
    applications because their size — which can be as large as a highway billboard
    — and million-dollar pricetag made them impractical for commercial purposes.

    Working for about a year, two graduate students in the
    electrical and computer engineering department, Jason May and Kwang-Jin Koh, fit
    an entire phased array onto a single chip.

    Koh, who researches phased arrays for his doctoral thesis,
    was drawn to work with phased arrays because of the increasing demand for
    commercial applications, which was hampered only by the tradition of constructing
    them with many separate chips made from high-cost semiconductors.

    May said that fitting the phased array onto one chip makes
    the device less expensive and more reliable, expanding the potential military
    and commercial applications.

    According to Gabriel Rebeiz, the UCSD electrical engineering
    professor who proposed and oversaw the project, the chip breaks many world
    records in its intricacy and compact size.

    “No one has ever been able to use silicon … to put 16
    channels at this frequency range, with excellent amplitude and phase balance
    between the channels, and with phase control for each channel,” Rebeiz said in an e-mail. “No one. Not even
    Raytheon, Boeing or Lockheed. No one. This is a first in every aspect.”

    The team first created a chip that could receive signals,
    and has since completed a transmitter.

    Some possible commercial uses of the chip include being able
    to beam a movie wirelessly between certain projectors and DVD players, or using
    it as a small antenna on car roofs that would allow access to over 500
    television channels.

    Rebeiz said he has received positive feedback regarding the
    chip’s commercial uses.

    “Heaven help us, but everyone says that this is a great
    commercial application,” he said.

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