Macquarie University

Microwave Office Gives Students at Macquarie University “Real World” Design Experience


University Background

Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, is a hub of innovation and excellence and quickly becoming one of Australia’s leading research universities through heavy investment in research, learning and teaching, new facilities, and mutually beneficial relationships with industry. The engineering program at Macquarie is the birthplace of wireless LAN/WiFi, with Professors David Skellern and Neil Weste incubating Radiata, the first WiFi chipset maker. With a strong focus on practical learning, students at Macquarie work on programs that genuinely produce a real world outcome.

The Design Challenge

Dr. Michael Heimlich, Concentration of Research Excellence (CORE) professor in wireless communication at Macquarie, teaches undergraduate classes in electronic devices and systems and advanced digital and RFIC design. He believes that in today’s world of complex communications it is necessary to teach the use of computers and simulation in engineering design and requires all of his students to learn the use of high-frequency circuit design software.

The Solution

Electronic Devices and Systems Class
The students in this third-year class at Macquarie used Microwave Office® software throughout the semester to do laboratory assignments that consist of the basics of amplifier, mixer, and oscillator design. The final three-hour exam consisted of a spec, a transistor model pulled directly from the AWR web-based parts library, and the use of Microwave Office software. In fact, Dr. Heimlich replaced the more traditional “exam booklet” approach of filling blank pages with diagrams, schematics, and calculations with the novel approach of having his students submit their final Microwave Office project file (schematics, layout, results) via email.

The course achieved the highest student feedback ever received, and colleagues were amazed at how “real-world” Dr. Heimlich was able to make the course.

Advanced Digital and RFIC Design Classes
For the ELEC446 Advanced Computer Engineering (digital design) and EEC476 Advanced Electronics Engineering (analog RFIC design) classes, the two units joined forces to design a wireless DSP chip for use as a “smart microphone” within the Sydney Opera House. The students used Silanna’s 0.25um silicon-on-insulator (SOI) complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) process, partitioning the design into a binary phase-shift keying (BPSK) wireless front end and digital backend, and designing the various parts. Students were required to not only design their particular piece all the way through to layout and verification; they also had to partition the design between the two classes as well as down to each individual student.

Most students got through layout and a few even made it through parasitic extraction. Because this was the first offering, the students will be fine-tuning the project in a subsequent class. Dr. Heimlich is hopeful that as more detailed designs are produced, students will ultimately be able to tape out as well.

Why Microwave Office?

Dr. Heimlich credits the success of this project and the ability to make it a real world learning experience to the ease-of-use and intuitiveness of the AWR software, which enabled his students to reach higher levels of design not typically achieved by undergraduates. Scaffold or threshold learning was supported with the demonstration of the design fundamentals themselves, while problem-based or open-ended aspects were enabled by the use of the software and the design requirements. This also provided an avenue for alternative learners to excel by ‘doing’ a real design.