Cassella Receives NSF CAREER Award
Assistant Professor Cristian Cassella, electrical and computer engineering, received a $409K NSF CAREER award for “Giant Tunability through Piezoelectric Resonant Acoustic Metamaterials for Radio Frequency Adaptive Integrated Electronics.” As part of the project, Cassella will develop a new class of passive, tunable, and high-performance integrated resonant devices, namely the Piezoelectric Resonant Acoustic Metamaterials (pRAMs). pRAMs will enable new stable frequency synthesizers, adaptive front ends for IoT radios and many other on-chip transducers for sensing and communication.
Exchanging Massive Data in Crowded and Noisy Mediums
In recent years, Assistant Professor Cristian Cassella, electrical and computer engineering, and his team of PhD students have been developing communication devices that utilize the unique and combined features of electrical and acoustic domains, including components that provide frequency references similar to those used to regulate the motion of a clock.
By leveraging these components, future radios can more easily and more efficiently discriminate data streams from different service bands—such as Bluetooth or Wify—making sure that any received electromagnetic wave reaches the most adequate radio component responsible for extracting the desired information.
“About a year ago, we realized that the technologies used to build passive components in commercial radios were inadequate to keep up with the world’s growing communication needs,” says Cassella. “This fundamental limitation is even impacting what is attained by emerging computing frameworks—artificial intelligence, machine learning, and edge computing are all growing faster than the hardware can handle, and we needed to produce a jump in technology to keep pace.”
Cassella and his team began thinking creatively, which led to a new class of passive, tunable, and high-performance integrated resonant devices called Piezoelectric Resonant Acoustic Metamaterials (pRAMs). pRAMs have unique, artificially produced, and reconfigurable modal features that can be leveraged to form more stable frequency synthesizers as well as to increase the limited resilience to interference of the existing radios. They will enable new stable frequency synthesizers, adaptive front ends for IoT radios, and many other on-chip transducers for sensing and communication.
Well-known in the field of optics, bringing metamaterials into the world of acoustics for communication was a new and needed concept that led to Cassella receiving the prestigious CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation, titled, “Giant Tunability through Piezoelectric Resonant Acoustic Metamaterials for Radio Frequency Adaptive Integrated Electronics.”
“I’m extremely honored,” says Cassella. “As a young investigator, this is one of biggest awards you can get, and I see this as a message that my students and I are clearly looking at a problem that needs to be solved. When an organization like NSF thinks that your work can change the way we interact with each other as well as the quality of any communication links we build, it generates one of the biggest feelings of satisfaction that any academic can achieve.”
A member of the College of Engineering since 2018, Cassella obtained his PhD from Carnegie Mellon University, where he studied applied physics and electronics. This overlapping experience allowed him to realize that it is possible to leverage the unique features of one side to overcome fundamental challenges on the other.
As Cassella drives to solve challenging problems in communications, he also hopes pRAMs will enable future generations of connected wireless nodes to be more immune from cyberattacks, while consuming less and less power in favor of longer battery lifetimes. This new technology has ramifications not only in communications, but also in sensing applications where the strong magnetosensitive response of pRAMs will be investigated to form new chip-scale magnetometers with exceptional sensitivities suitable for critical biomagnetic applications and more.
Award Abstract: NSF