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University of Leeds Showcases Two Engineering Research Labs

Globally renowned for their teaching and research, Leeds is one of the leading electronic and electrical engineering schools in the UK. The Faculty of Engineering has a staff in excess of 700 serving 3000 students from over 100 countries. In addition to Leeds’ excellent academic program for undergraduate and graduate level students, Leeds is the home to world-class research labs that receive regular visitors from abroad from both academia and industry. Close links with industry ensure that the university is responsive to the needs of both research and teaching. Two notable activities at Leeds include the high frequency and terahertz electronics research and the National Facility for Innovative Robotic Systems.

High Frequency and Terahertz Labs

Leeds has fully equipped labs that focus on electronics research of the electromagnetic spectrum up to 20 terahertz (THz), including the Roger Pollard High-Frequency Measurements Laboratory which has network analyzer capability to 1.1 THz. This spectrum is of interest because many materials exhibit unique terahertz properties that are useful for imaging and material identification. A major focus of the research is in high frequency communications and sensing for healthcare applications. Over the years, Leeds had made significant contributions in this area of research.

The university has advanced the state of the art for understanding the fundamental interactions of THz radiation with a wide range of materials, including those in the area of security applications, such as illegal drugs and explosives. “One challenge the Leeds team is taking on is to investigate the feasibility of developing a cost-effective handheld instrument for measuring Terahertz range signals,” states Professor John Cunningham, Chair of Nanoelectronics and Director of the Institute of Microwaves and Photonics.

Another application being researched at Leeds is a high-power THz signal source running at double the output power compared to current sources today. Such a single-frequency signal source would have important applications for satellite communications with benefits in the areas of atmospheric observations and climate change.

Robotics Lab

Another strong area of research at Leeds over the past 20 years is in the area of robotics. To complement this effort, the university opened the National Facility for Innovative Robotic Systems in October 2014. With over £4M in funding, the robotics facility is part of the British government’s goal to improve the country’s international competitiveness.

“The lab is equipped with a broad set of state-of-the-art technologies including the latest 3D-printing technology and high-precision manufacture and assembly systems,” states Professor Ian Robertson, Chair in Microwave and Millimetre Wave Circuits and Head of School. The facility is housed in Mechanical Engineering and issued by multiple departments at Leeds including electronic & electrical engineering, computing and medicine.

Robotics research at Leeds will span a wide ranging set of applications. For example, the university investigates small-scale custom robotics that can cheaply and effectively explore industrial facilities that monitor safe gas levels or inspect pipes. Another area of opportunity is the use of robotics in the medical field where robots can assist with a patient’s rehabilitation, for example after a stroke. The most diverse application of robotics includes the exploration of Egypt’s pyramids, where robots have been used to explore pyramid interiors with cameras and measuring devices to evaluate materials and other local information. One such expedition  yielded pictures of 4500-year-old markings from inside the Great Pyramid of Khufu, gathered by a robot explorer designed in part by University of Leeds engineers. These images may give clues to how the pyramid was built.

Longtime Partnership with Keysight

For over 30 years, Leeds has had an excellent working relationship with Keysight Technologies (and previously with Agilent and Hewlett-Packard when the test and measurement group was part of those organizations). The partnership started in 1981 when the late Roger Pollard, who went on to become the Dean of Engineering at Leeds, began working at Keysight’s Santa Rosa, California facility for a 6 month sabbatical, after which he returned each summer for 6 weeks every year. Continuing this tradition until he retired in 2011, Pollard made key contributions in the field of network analyzer measurements and his name is on numerous Keysight patents. That partnership continues today with Roger Stancliff (Leeds visiting professor and Chief Technology Officer for Keysight’s Component Test Division). Stancliff spends time each year at Leeds working with faculty and students and new research collaborations.

It’s no surprise that Keysight’s presence can also be found in the Leeds research labs. One notable test instrument is the Keysight PNA-X network analyzer which, along with 750 GHz to 1.1 THz test heads from Virginia Diodes Inc. (VDI), is able to measure passive components, semiconductor devices, antennas and materials. The system primarily measures S-parameters but can also be configured, with additional hardware, to make absolute power, gain compression, pulsed and time-domain measurements, as well as characterizing material parameters. In addition, Leeds has a suite of other Keysight test instruments including network analyzers, wireless test sets, and waveform generators including the Keysight PSG high performance microwave signal generator.

In an effort to ensure that their graduating students have strong marketable skills, Leeds participates in Keysight’s RF and Microwave Student Certification Program, which confirms students’ technical knowledge, design expertise, and hands-on measurement proficiency in the use of Keysight EEsof EDA software design tools and Keysight instruments.

“We’re proud of the long history of work with Keysight,” notes Professor Robertson. “The relationship has made a significant impact on the research and student education at Leeds.”

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