Providing much-needed research for the burgeoning telecom industry

IMAGINE A 12-STOREY OFFICE BUILDING: A SERIES OF OFFICES on each floor, connected by hallways, stairways and elevators. Now, take the whole structure, compress it into the space of a CD case and send electrical signals through it all.

This tiny but highly complex structure – called a printed circuit board – is at the heart of the vast array of electronic equipment we use every day. Professor Emilie van Deventer, of electrical and computer engineering at U of T, is working to make this technology better.

To meet the growing need for up-to-the-minute technology in industries like telecommunications, van Deventer and her team are constantly developing and enhancing theoretical models of the electromagnetic properties of circuit boards. Software development firms then incorporate these models and their codes of calculations into sophisticated packages for circuit board designers.

Found in computers, telephones, televisions and cellular phones, today’s circuit boards are faster, denser and smaller

than ever before, creating exciting new possibilities and applications. “But as this happens,” says van Deventer, “they become more susceptible to signal distortion. As the lines on a circuit board get closer together, the signal may couple to another line, creating cross-talk which can cause the signal to lose power. Faster signals can also mean more noise and increase the potential for distortion.” The result can be wide-ranging, from a lost computer connection to fuzzy reception on a cell phone.

Van Deventer and her team are working to address these issues in order to create better models for the circuit boards used in the telecommunications industry. “We develop models that help

identify how signals get from point A to point B,” says van Deventer. “These models are much more sophisticated than in the past because they have to account for the high frequency effects that the latest technology creates.”

With the increasing speed of new developments in the telecommunications industry, companies rarely have the time or the expertise to build prototypes or conduct testing after production, so the software modelling done by teams like van Deventer’s is invaluable. “The industrial community is very interested in our research capabilities,” says van Deventer. “It always needs to be working on the next generation of products, so it turns to universities to get the research done.” The importance of this work is reflected in the research funding van Deventer and her team receive from the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Communications & Information Technology Ontario (CITO), and their major industrial partner, Nortel. “We are fulfilling a very real need in the industry today, which will only increase as technology creates more opportunity.” In the process, consumers will continue to enjoy faster computers, lighter cell phones, smaller electronic organizers and the vast array of other electronic gadgets the high-tech world has to offer.

– Kelly Mills

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