Volume V, Issue 1
September 2008


New Directions at Falvey

Dr. Robert Caverly on recent improvements in wireless communication

If it weren’t for Dick Tracy comic strips, Star Trek and a National Science Foundation combined research and curriculum design grant, Dr.  Robert Caverly would not have known what to do on his sabbatical. A diverse group of budding writers and engineers gathered  for the Scholarship @ Villanova lecture series on November 6 to learn how and why Dr. Caverly, from the University's electrical and computer engineering department spent his sabbatical writing a “how to” book for professionals and graduate students: CMOS RFIC Design Principles (Artech, 2007).

Dick Tracy’s once-futuristic-wristwatch-communication device and the communicators used in Star Trek sparked Dr. Caverly’s early interest in two-way radio communication. Wisely anticipating that many in the audience didn’t have a precise idea of what his book is about, Dr. Caverly explained that radio frequency (RF) isn’t digital.

By exposing the guts of a clunky old cell phone, he showed that the phone’s digital part is segregated from its radio part, each part having its own integrated circuits (IC). This design takes up a lot of space; therefore, integrating both radio frequency and digital processing on the same chip saves a lot of space. The end product is radio frequency integrated circuits (RFIC). CMOS stands for “complimentary metal oxide semiconductor,” the same fabrication process used for making silicon wafers. 

One challenge in RFIC design is devising ways to overcome power fluctuations and channel noise inherent in radio communication on a crowded radio-frequency spectrum. The benefit of converting RF signals into a digital format is that subsequent adjustments, based on varying spectrum requirements, become a simple matter of software redesign. Computer Assisted Design (CAD) is used to create RF components because of its ability to handle and focus in on minute features. CAD allows designers to draw and simulate the operation of RF transistors without the need for expensive fabrication trials. This benefit results in cost savings and reduced time to market.

The genesis of the project was a National Science Foundation combined research and curriculum grant Dr. Caverly received back in 2002. The idea for the book took shape when his wife asked, “Why don’t you just write a book?” Later, his conversation with publisher Artech House at a conference provided a forum for the project.

Dr. Caverly shared a bit of writing wisdom with the audience. He said a fellow author recommended writing a detailed outline for his book proposal. This outline simplified the writing process; he just had to “fill in the blanks.”

During the revising and editing stage, Dr. Caverly piloted the book in a graduate class, offering points to students who found errors. He believes that feedback and that of an anonymous external reviewer substantially strengthened his book.     

Contributed by Linda Hauck; photograph by Laura Hutelmyer