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Centennial History of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering


The research program at CSL encompasses a variety of topics in science and engineering, with major emphasis on programs providing graduate thesis research. Students conduct research under the direction of faculty members holding joint appointments in the following departments and schools: Electrical and Computer Engineering, Mathematics, Computer Science, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, General Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, Linguistics, and Library and Information Science.

Originally called the Control Systems Laboratory, CSL was organized in 1951 under the impetus of urgent military needs because of the involvement of the United States in the Korean War. Aware of the technological potential in the areas of information theory and automatic computers, the small staff, led by Francis Wheeler Loomis, Louis Ridenour, and Fred Seitz, demonstrated that technical feasibility of several completely novel ideas that, in the 1990s, form the nucleus of important military systems. These included: the coherent Doppler radar; the Cornfield System, a radar-based, computer-controlled air traffic surveillance and control system; the All Weather Attack System, an airborne, noncoherent Doppler radar; a portable sentry radar designed the AN/TPS-21; the side-looking radar; and the ground observer corps.

In 1959, the university and the Joint Services Committee approved the reorganization of the laboratory into an interdisciplinary and interdepartmental graduate research center. Daniel M. Alpert became the first director of the renamed Coordinated Science Laboratory. This change also marked the beginning of new objectives and activities, which included graduate students and graduate research. The first associate directory were Chalmers W. Sherwin for physics and Mac E. Van Valkenburg for engineering.

As part of a program to strength CSL's computer and systems activities, Van Valkenburg recruited a number of new faculty members in the early ad mid-1960s. These researchers later led CSL and the department to distinction in their respective fields. Van Valkenburg also organized the "Allerton Conference on Circuits and Systems" in 1963. The conference continues today as the "Allerton Conference on Communication, Control, and Computing." Van Valkenburg asked Jose B. Cruz, Jr., to establish programs in control systems. Cruz had obtained a PhD in circuit theory under Van Valkenburg and was developing a national reputation for his contributions to time-varying circuits and systems. Cruz originated graduate courses in the control area and, along with Van Valkenburg, began building a control facility. William R. Perkins and Petar V. Kokotovic were appointed to the control faculty in the early 1960s.

The work by Cruz, Perkins, and Kokotovic on sensitivity theory and control in the presence of uncertainties gained CSL international attention from the control community. This basic work is at the heart of feedback theory and remains and important part of fundamental control theory. Other major developments coming from CSL's control group include Cruz's pioneering work on dynamic games, especially leader-follower strategies, and Kokotovic's original research on singular perturbations and on adaptive control. The control group is known, in the 1990s, as the Decision and Control Laboratory and is highly regarded internationally.

Robert T. Chien (PhD '58) returned to the University of Illinois from IBM in 1964. He led a research group in coding and information theory. Later he developed research programs in design automation and artificial intelligence. In 1972 he became director of CSL, a post that he held until his death in 1983. As director, Chien strengthened systems and computer research and added new programs in semiconductor materials and devices.

Sundarum Seshu, Gernot Metze, and Franco Preparata were added to the staff in the computer area in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They did pioneering research on fault tolerant computing and computations theory. Later, Edward Davidson joined the group. Davidson and Preparata successfully recruited a number of young faculty members to CSL. Two of these faculty, Ravi Iyer and Janak Patel, formed the Center for Reliable and High Performance Computing in 1989. The computer engineering program at UIUC now ranks among the very best in the nation.

In communications, Van Valkenburg recruited Abraham H. Haddad. Later Michael E. Pursley, H. Vincent Poor, and Bruce Hajek joined the group. The group has earned a reputation for its outstanding research in spread spectrum communications, signal estimation and detection, and communication networks.

Van Valkenburg recruited Timothy N. Trick in 1965 to develop the nonlinear circuits area. With rapid developments in integrated circuits and computing, Trick's interests switched to computer-aided analysis and design of integrated circuits and digital signal processing. Upon Chien's death in 1983, Trick became acting director and then director of CSL until 1985, when he became head of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. In 1986, W. Kenneth Jenkins was named director of CSL. I. N. Hajj and S. M. Kang now lead the VLSI circuits research effort in CSL. Since 1984, the Semiconductor Research Corporation has funded a major program in reliable VLSI systems. Faculty members from both the circuits area and computer area participate in this program. Research is conducted on reliable VLSI circuits, testing, and fault diagnosis.

Originally supporting the entire laboratory, the Joint Services Electronics Program (JSEP) constitutes about 25% of the total funding of CSL in 1991. This funding has resulted in many pioneering projects. The experimental model of an electric vacuum gyroscope provided the basis for successful development at the industrial level. The plasma display panel, invented under the leadership of Donald L. Bitzer and H. Gene Slottow, is used around the world in banking and graphics display terminals and in numerous military applications.

The capabilities of early combat surveillance radar were limited by antenna size. Sherwin conceived of a new idea that would accomplish a very high angular resolution. Based on experimental feasibility demonstrations at CSL, this work eventually led to the Army AN/UPD-1 (XPM-1) combat surveillance radar system. The work of J. D. O'Brien, W. Kenneth Jenkins, and David C. Munson, Jr., clarified the role of Doppler in synthetic aperture radar. Clearing the way for the development of a new class of SAR reconstruction algorithms, this work has been recognized as a basic contribution in the field.

PLATO, Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations, was conceived by Sherwin and developed at CSL under the direction of Bitzer. The Computer-based Education Research Laboratory was formed in 1959, and the PLATO project grew rapidly in the 1960s. Numerous innovative ideas and their development have proven CSL to be responsible for many of the systems and designs used in the 1990s.

Another development at CSL is the acoustic charge transport (ACT), which is a method to store information in analog form. William Hunsinger and Michael Hoskins developed ACT delay lines to transport charge in GaAs using the electric fields produced by surface acoustic waves. Devices using this technology have low-noise, large-dynamic ranges and wide bandwidths. Several industrial organizations have followed the lead of the University of Illinois and, in the early 1990s, are pursuing the development of this new technology, which promises significant breakthroughs in signal processing applications.

The earliest CSL research in the field of spread-spectrum communications was by a visitor, T. Kasami of Japan, in the mid-1960s. His contribution was largely unknown until it was publicized by the CSL faculty members a decade later. As a result, Kasami sequences, as they are now called, occupy a position alongside m-sequences and Gold sequences as the most powerful linear sequences for DS spread-spectrum systems.

The research program in the early 1990s in spread-spectrum communications originated in 1974 with an investigation of the multiple-access capability of direct-sequence (DS) spread spectrum by Michael Pursley from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. This research produced methods for signal design and performance analysis that are in widespread use in the early 1990s. The synchronization sequence in the army's SINCGARS spread-spectrum radio was designed by CSL researchers. CSL research has branched out into several areas, including: frequency-hop systems, effects of fading on spread-spectrum communications, spread-spectrum radio networks, combined condign and spread spectrum to combat fading, and jamming.

A unique facility called the EpiCenter, an abbreviation for the University of Illinois CSL-Microelectronics Joint Center for Epitaxial Growth and Surface Science, is located in the CSL building. The equipment consists of seven molecular beam epitaxy chambers interconnected by evacuation stainless steel transfer lines. Established in 1988, this jointly supported, world-class facility is a center of attraction for new research activities in microelectronics materials and devices.

During the early years of CSL, the principal areas of research were the electric vacuum gyroscope, surface and vacuum physics, plasma physics, plasma display devices, computers and their applications to modern systems problems, system theory, and computer science. At CSL, as it is in any active scientific and engineering research enterprise, the focus is a dynamic one -- constantly being modified toward new areas that promise to be important over a long period of time.

In the early 1990s, activities include research programs in semiconductor physics, semiconductor materials and devices, high-speed devices, thin-film physics, sputter deposition of materials, microwave acoustics, surface science, quantum electronics, electromagnetic communications, radiation and scattering, and advanced automation. Research is also being done in digital signal and image processing, applied computation theory, human-computer interaction, computer-aided decision making, fault tolerant digital systems, concurrent processing, computer architecture, computer algorithms, decision and control, linear and nonlinear systems, analog and digital circuits, computer vision and robotics, communications, and information revival.



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Centennial History of the Department of ECE
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Electrical and Computer Engineering Department
ECE Publications