University of Virginia (UVA)

University of Virginia Teaches PCB Design


Company Profile

Founded in 1836, the University of Virginia (UVA) Engineering School is the third oldest engineering school in a public university in the U.S. The school combines research and educational opportunities at the undergraduate and graduate levels as part of UVA, a consistently top-ranked public institution. Within the engineering school undergraduate programs, courses in engineering, ethics, mathematics, the sciences, and the humanities are available to build a strong foundation for careers in engineering and other professions. The abundant research opportunities complement the curriculum and educate young men and women to become thoughtful leaders in technology and society.

The Design Challenge

UVA is dedicated to providing significant hands-on experiences in RF and microwave circuit design, including layout and testing of printed circuit boards (PCBs). For example, the RF and Wireless Circuits course that Prof. N. Scott Barker teaches covers the basics of impedance matching, noise, distortion, and RF building blocks (low-noise amplifiers, mixers, voltage-controlled oscillators). These topics are motivated through a semester-long project of designing, building, testing, and fielding a weather satellite receiver to receive and demodulate the automatic picture transmission (APT) signal. The APT is currently transmitted by three polar orbiting environmental satellites (POESs) operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Although the signal is low resolution, it is broadcast in the meteorological satellite band from 137-138 MHz using frequency modulation, which enables interesting yet relatively easy RF circuit design. The APT provides near real-time infrared images of the Earth, which are good for observing cloud cover.

The Solution

In order to complete the satellite receiver design within one semester, Prof. Barker’s course tightly integrates seven lab projects that include five PCB designs in which each student does his/her own design and layout, which is then manufactured by PCB manufacturer Advanced Circuits. The PCB designs include LC matching networks, a pre-matched amplifier (using the Mini-Circuits ERA-2), a low-noise amplifier (using a silicon germanium [SiGe] transistor), a voltage-controlled oscillator (VCO) based on the MAX2606 integrated VCO, and a mixer based on the SA602A Gilbert cell multiplier. The VCO is controlled using an ADF4110 phase-locked loop [PLL] board designed by Prof. Barker that the students program using an MSP430 LaunchPad microcontroller. 

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