College of Engineering's Chip Design Program produces designers for high performance computing industry
Dr. Paul D Franzon, NC State ECE Professor
In the world of gaming and fast computers, integrated circuit designers create the magical chips that give game boxes the speed to produce lightning fast video stream and realistic action that challenge players. They also explore the next generation of computing, pushing to expand the capabilities of computers.
Producing a highly qualified workforce to feed high tech industry is important to the economy of the Research Triangle area and to North Carolina. The College of Engineering at North Carolina State University has produced more than 150 graduates in its innovative chip design program. These graduates make up a specialized work force that helps attract companies like Qualcom, nVidia, Rambus, IBM, RFMD and Analog Devices that offer excellent work environments and competitive salaries.
Designing chips for high performance computing requires an expert knowledge of circuitry, a familiarity with the properties of silicon chips, a vivid imagination, a healthy dose of curiosity and professors with these same qualities. Dr. Paul Franzon, Distinguished Graduate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is just such a professor. Franzon and his colleagues in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering make up the core faculty of NC State's chip design program. Other core faculty include Dr. Kevin Gard, Dr. Rhett Davis, Dr. Xun Liu and Dr. Christal Gordon.
Graduates of the program, Lei Luo (PhDEE '05), Fredy Quan (MSEE '96) and John Wilson (PhDEE '03), work for Rambus, a leading technology licensing company specializing in the invention and design of high-speed chip interfaces. Rambus engineers have designed a variety of high-performance interfaces, including the interface between the main processor and various components in Sony's latest entertainment console, PLAYSTATION 3. This design allows the processors in the game box to communicate rapidly, making the gaming much more realistic.
All three graduates cite Franzon as the one who most influenced them. His website offers tips on what courses to take and why master's and Ph.D. degrees are important in the chip design world.
"I followed his advise from his website for a year before I ever met [Dr. Franzon]," said Luo. "At the end of that year, I went to him and said 'you've been advising me for a year, and I want to be in your program.' And he looked at my work and accepted me."
Franzon continues to be involved in the work of his former students, giving presentations at most of the major chip design companies and at conferences and seminars. According to Quan, both Franzon and the graduates of the program are well-known in the industry.
"He is very influential in the chip design world," said Wilson. "That is one reason he is such a great teacher. He is as enthusiastic about chip design as his students are."