The University of Virginia’s Charles L. Brown Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering is expanding its research hub for wireless spectrum sharing as a partner in SpectrumX, a new National Center for Spectrum Innovation. The center, led by University of Notre Dame professor of electrical engineering Nick Laneman, has been awarded $25 million in funding from the National Science Foundation as part of its Spectrum Innovation Initiative.
“We are proud to have joined with Notre Dame to form SpectrumX and look forward to solving policy and technology challenges created by the worldwide growth of wireless systems and applications,” said Robert M. Weikle II, a professor of electrical and computer engineering who is leading the UVA team. “Together, we will chart a path toward a vibrant future wireless environment that will serve both commercial applications and scientific research.”
Wireless systems including 5G and beyond support numerous applications — from personal communications and navigation to radar and sensing. Such a dramatic need for expanded access to the radio spectrum has resulted in congestion and increased pressure on government regulators to allocate new commercial spectra at higher frequencies beyond 100 gigahertz.
Recognizing the significant technical challenges of disparate interests seeking to share the same spectrum, the UVA team contributes its long-established expertise in design, metrology, sensors, devices and system hardware solutions toward advancing international scientific research on microwave and terahertz frequencies and beyond.
“This vast and untapped frequency region represents an unprecedented opportunity for commercial applications,” Weikle said. “The challenge is finding solutions that allow us to protect scientific needs, such as radio astronomy, that require use of the radio-through-terahertz spectrum while enabling coexistence with other users as emerging commercial applications begin to enter that space.”
Weikle’s team leverages a decadeslong partnership with the UVA School of Engineering and Applied Science, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and Virginia Diodes. Together, these institutions constitute a major research hub in technology for millimeter and submillimeter spectrum access and use with significant infrastructure for test beds, trusted relationships with industry and government, and depth of perspective into the needs of the scientific research community.
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory — a Charlottesville, Virginia-based facility of the National Science Foundation operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities — is a key scientific institution operating in the radio spectrum. Its staff members conduct astronomical observations at radio wavelengths and run the world’s most powerful and productive radio telescope facilities for use by the international scientific community.
“For more than 50 years, [the observatory] has worked towards protecting spectrum use for instruments like the next-generation Very Large Array, which are vital to future scientific discoveries,” said Arthur Lichtenberger, a UVA research professor of electrical and computer engineering and a SpectrumX teammate. “Research of fundamental importance to our world, including the origins of the universe and climate change, rests on scientists’ continued access to clean spectrum unpolluted by humans.”
Virginia Diodes is a leading producer of millimeter wave and terahertz test and measurement equipment and components. Headquartered in Charlottesville, Virginia Diodes is a key commercial source for technology and test equipment from Ka-band to beyond 1 terahertz. Gerhard Schoenthal, chief operating officer of Virginia Diodes, says SpectrumX will enable the coexistence of commercial and scientific interests.
“The technologies we develop not only drive future use but also of the electromagnetic spectrum above 100 gigahertz,” Schoenthal said.
"We are proud to have joined with Notre Dame to form SpectrumX and look forward to solving policy and technology challenges created by the worldwide growth of wireless systems and applications. Together, we will chart a path toward a vibrant future wireless environment that will serve both commercial applications and scientific research."
Robert Weikle II, UVA professor of electrical and computer engineering; Steering Committee Chair, Radio and Network Technologies Research Working Group Lead and Project Team Lead
Balancing the UVA team’s knowledge and understanding of phenomena and instrumentation for bands above 100 gigahertz, Nikos Sidiropoulos, Louis T. Rader Professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Cong Shen, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, will conduct research on signal processing-based spectrum sharing in lower radio-frequency bands.
Randall Berry, Northwestern University’s John A. Dever Professor of electrical and computer engineering and department chair, and Dongning Guo, professor of electrical and computer engineering with Northwestern’s Communications and Networking Laboratory, joined the UVA team during the planning grant phase of the award process and will continue their partnership with UVA in the SpectrumX project.
UVA and Northwestern share strong credentials in dynamic spectrum access, wireless communications, signal processing, machine learning and extremely low-power radio frequency circuits. Sidiropoulos, Berry and Guo oversee allied research projects in software-defined radio, a system that uses software to modulate and demodulate radio signals. Along with Shen, Berry and Guo can pool the team’s expertise in market-based solutions to spectrum access.
Devices and radio frequency circuits for millimeter and terahertz sensing, a research strength of UVA’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, represent foundational technologies that will enable metrology, measurement and characterization of new and emerging systems exploiting the terahertz spectrum for commercial and scientific uses.
The department excels in the design of terahertz devices and circuits and microelectromechanical components. Steven M. Bowers, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, and N. Scott Barker, professor of electrical and computer engineering and associate dean for academic affairs, will contribute efforts to this research thrust.