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Electrical engineering students win prestigious student design competition

Dr Souheil Ben Smida(centre) with competition winners James Birchall and Paolo de Falco and prize sponsers Ajit Gokhale, John McLaughlin and Ben Lavasani from National Instruments University of Bristol

Press release issued: 14 June 2016

A team from the University of Bristol has won a prestigious High Efficiency Power Amplifier Student Design Competition, which ran as part of the International Microwave Symposium (IMS) 2016 in San Francisco, USA, last month [22-27 May].

The team of three PhD students from the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Communications included Paolo de FalcoJames Birchall and Laurence Smith.  The students PhD projects were funded by EPSRC,Toshiba EuropeU-Blox and Sony Europe and the team were advised during the competition by Dr Souheil Ben Smida from the Communication Systems and Networks (CSN) research group.

Dr Souheil Ben Smida, Lecturer in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, said: "For the competition teams have to design a power amplifier that has to comply with minimum specifications in terms of gain and output power levels.  The winning design is the one that consumes the minimum amount of energy.

"I advised the team to concentrate their efforts on a solution that met the design requirements. The students organised themselves efficiently and divided the tasks between them.  By doing this it helped them to quickly create a first design, learn from their mistakes and to re-think the design. They redesigned a better prototype that resulted in them winning the competition. I'm very proud of their tremendous achievement."

Paolo De Falco, PhD student in communications, explained: "It was a great pleasure and experience to compete in the competition. From a technical point of view, I learnt how to design to a specification, an essential part of a wireless transmitter, and within a specific time frame.  We won through strong team effort, being able to communicate effectively and using each other’s strengths to their full advantage.  Winning the competition has given us greater confidence and enthusiasm and we hope to build on our result for next year’s competition."

James Birchall, PhD student in communications, added: "The competition was a challenging experience and being able to attend IMS2016 was fantastic and was made even better by us winning the design competition. It meant a great deal to be complemented on our engineering skills by other highly competent engineers. I’m very proud of our team’s effort, and look forward in advancing our design to enter next year."

Dr Kevin Morris, Head of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and the students PhD supervisor, said: "All the students involved in the competition are carrying out research into amplifier technologies which can be applied to 5G systems. Achieving a win at the first attempt is a tremendous achievement and a reflection of the abilities of our radio frequency power amplifier PhD students." 

Laurence Smith, PhD student in communications, explained: "I really enjoyed taking part in the design competition. My main contribution to the team's winning design was at the research stage; helping to inform the earlier choices in the design process.  As a team we were delighted to win and personally I'm very grateful for the massive amount of work that my teammates put into our entry.  I look forward to next year’s competition and the challenge of improving on our design."

Mark Beach, Professor of Radio Systems Engineering in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and Manager of the EPSRC CDT in Communications, added: "This prestigious award to Paolo,James and Laurence pays testament to their individual technical abilities in the field of radio frequency engineering, a skill well-aligned to UK needs in the development of 5G and beyond wireless technologies, as well as their abilities to work as a team addressing a challenging problem. It is fantastic to see the cohort training provided as part of the four-year integrated PhD programme in Communications at Bristol being applied and attracting international recognition." 

Andrew Nix, Dean of Engineering and Head of the CSN research group, commented: "We're very proud of our wireless laboratory and encourage all of our PhD students to combine theory and simulation with practical design and build. We've got a very strong radio frequency team and it’s fantastic to see them succeed in this international competition at their first attempt."

The winning students received a prize of $2,000, and will be invited to submit a paper describing the design for the MTT- S Microwaves Magazine. In addition, National Instruments (NI) is offering the faculty  adviser of the winning team, Dr Ben Smida, an  American Express gift card  ($2,500) for the cost of his travel and one or more team members to attend and present their design (in poster form) at NI Week’s Academic Day in Austin, Texas, in August.   

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