De Novo Fellowship Sparks Diversity in Undergraduate Research
To encourage traditionally underrepresented students to become involved in research, the School of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences put out a call to undergraduates last spring: apply for a De Novo Fellowship; get paid for up to 10 weeks of full-time research with a faculty mentor; travel and present your work at an academic conference.
Five engineering students were selected for the prestigious fellowship and throughout the summer, Amritpal Singh ’20, an electrical engineering major minoring in computer science and engineering as well as mathematics, could be found in the lab, working alongside his mentor Kurt Schab, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, to advance the theory of evaluating the performance of small antenna systems designed into electronic circuitry.
Their research tracks distortion to compare the efficiency of LTI (linear, time-invariant) and non-LTI antennas, addressing a challenge that circuit designers have faced in selecting their best option. Singh explained that linearity and time variance data make a system easy to analyze, so designers of new antenna systems often simply accept the performance bounds associated with LTI systems to assess efficiency. But assuming LTI bounds may not be optimal; using the bounds of a non-LTI antenna could produce a better outcome. “Comparing LTI to non-LTI has been difficult, though,” Singh said, “so we are figuring out a way to compare the two.” Using LTspice computer software to simulate their circuit, they send an on-off key signal; a different part of the circuit checks what is being sent, and measures distortion. “We’re using another software program to tell the simulation tool to initiate the test, so we can run multiple tests sequentially,” Singh said.
"Stepping away from non-LTI antennas is a huge conceptual leap for the electromagnetics community," said Professor Schab, adding, "This work with Amritpal is a critical step in establishing a new common language for antenna designers and system engineers to specify and analyze this new class of devices. Having Amritpal and Brad [Brad Shirley is a 2019 Kuehler Grant recipient] in the lab this summer has been a real joy. Summer research experiences like this support faculty research and give undergraduates an amazing opportunity to gain experience and technical depth past what they normally see in the classroom."
Talking with Singh about this research opportunity, his enthusiasm is contagious. “It’s been great—really enjoyable! Since we’re working in the same lab, if I get stuck on something, I ask for help and Dr. Schab is right there. I’m getting to use all of my major and minor expertise, and on the side I’m reading about variational calculus and linear algebra and just learning a lot, in general.” Lest you think he is all business, know that this researcher, IEEE student chapter treasurer, and math tutor, is also a huge fan of Survivor.
But of all his interests and activities, the De Novo Fellowship does seem to be having a strong impact on him. As he heads into his senior year, Singh is thinking more and more about the future. “I’ve known for a while that I want to go to grad school, but now I’m wondering if I should skip the master’s degree and go for a Ph.D. Going from high school to pursuing a doctorate in such a short time seems like such a leap,” he said, with a look of amazement on his face, “but now it looks like a real possibility.”