Eli Brookner is the honorary chairman of EDI CON USA 2016 and will introduce the plenary keynote Tom Sikina who will present on the topic of reflecting on innovation in the development of phased arrays. Innovation is a major focal point at EDI CON USA 2016, which will bring together industry leaders to discuss creative ways to address today’s engineering challenges in RF, microwave, and high-speed digital design. Eli Brookner will also give a short course on phased array radar basics and the latest advancements in the industry. We interviewed Eli about his perspectives on the industry.
MWJ: How did you get interested in engineering?
Dr. Brookner: As a kid between 12 and 14, I was interested in chemistry and had my own chemistry set with chemicals. I belonged to a chemistry club where I had the key to the lab that was set up at the home of one of the members. I had many explosions but fortunately, lived to talk about them with the worst damage only being scars. Looking back I am very glad I failed to make dynamite. In high school I got interested in electronics which is where I was told the future jobs would be. At that time I built a radio from a kit and an oscilloscope from a Radio Handbook schematic. Both used vacuum tubes. That led me to electrical engineering in college. During my senior year I spent the summer working at the Radar Laboratory of the Rome Air Development Laboratory (RADC) in Rome, New York. When I graduated I worked at the Columbia University Electronics Research Laboratory (CUERL, which became Riverside Research Institute, RRI). There I worked on radar - dish and phased arrays which I continued to do over my 50+ year career.
MWJ: What is the most important development in radar in the past decade?
Dr. Brookner: Integrated circuits - when I built my radio and oscilloscope the tubes were about 1x1x2 in3. Now 2 billion transistors go on the iPhone 6 chip. If we had to use the tubes I used in high school for the iPhone to fit it into the 5.44 X 2.64 in sq footprint of the iPhone it would have to be 4,400 miles high! We can now buy a 128 GB memory stick containing 130 billion transistors for $35. This is equivalent to buying 4 billion tubes for the $1, the cost to buy one tube in the mid 40’s. If we stacked the 130 billion tubes on their sides one on top of each other they would go to a height of about 70 times synchronous altitude or about 9 times the distance to the moon and have a 1 X 2 in sq footprint! We can now carry the equivalent of that in our pants pockets. We can now buy the equivalent of 4 billion tubes for the $1 it cost us to buy one tube back then in the mid 40’s. We can now put all the RF circuitry for a radar on a chip the size of our pinky finger nail. Google has put a whole radar with 4 antennas on a pinky finger nail area. Intel has put the transmit and receive circuitry for a 32 element 60 GHz phased array on a chip. I call these Extreme MMIC chips. It is estimated that such radars and arrays will in the future cost only a few dollars. One can now buy a working toy police type speed measuring radar for $25 on the web. One can learn how to build a radar and phased array at two MIT courses and actually build one. Also, the MIT radar is now available as a kit from a commercial company.
MWJ: What do you think is the next big thing happening in the area of radar technology?
Dr. Brookner: I see further advances in Extreme MMICs and the wider use of the above mentioned radars and phased arrays on a chip happening now, the latter for the IoT. Also like the printing press resulted in a revolution in books, magazines and newspapers, we can expect that to happen for printed electronics which will lead to low cost electronics. Already printed electronics operating at 1.6 GHz have been demonstrated. The use of these circuits for wearable electronics will help push this technology.
Although we have come a long way in signal processing technology we still have a long way to go. The human brain weighs only about 2 to 3 pounds and requires only about 20 W of power. To do what the human brain does with our present technology would require a computer the size of a city and require a nuclear power plant. We are still in the horse and buggy days when it comes to computer capability. The future should bring us to a capability closer to what out brain can do. Technologies that potentially will help in this direction are memristors, quantum computing, graphene transistors operating at terahertz clock speeds and synaptic transistors that mimic our brain. (See my Nov. 2015 article in “Radar and Phased Array Breakthroughs”, in the Microwave Journal.)
MWJ: What are people’s biggest misconceptions about phased array radar design?
Dr. Brookner: It is that phased array radars are very expensive. Integrated circuits for microwave components, Monolithic Microwave Integrated Circuits (MMIC) made it economical to have active electronically steered arrays (AESAs) in fighter aircraft for the first time. The MMIC APG-79 AESA radar on the F/A-18 E/F now allows doing of the air-to-air and air-to-ground modes simultaneous, something not possible with the mechanically steered arrays. This allows the two man crew to simultaneously do the job of delivering the weapon while protecting the aircraft. A pilot for the F/A-18 E/F reported at a Military Radar Conference that this radar on top of giving more capability also cost 25% less than its mechanically scanned predecessor.
MWJ: Do you have any funny stories from your time as an engineer?
Dr. Brookner: Bert Fowler had some funny stories like the tendency of radars to burn down. The famous FPS-85 is one example. This was the first large phased array built. It burned down just before final testing was complete and the radar sold off. Many a stories go along with this fire. One that used to go around was that the phased array antenna was poorly designed having a bad mismatch at large scan angles so that the high power was reflected back into the radar at large scan angles which resulted in the fire. This turned out to be wrong. The fire resulted from a simple cable short. I heard that the engineers at the site tried to use the fire extinguishers to put out the fire but found that all the extinguishers were empty. The story goes that there was not enough money to buy a refrigerator for the soft drinks. As result the people at the site cooled off the soft drinks using the fire extinguishers. The fire cost about $35 million - all for want of a refrigerator.
MWJ: Do you have any advice for new or aspiring engineers?
Dr. Brookner: Radar is a great field to work in. It encompasses all disciplines. It is fast moving. It is challenging. It is exciting. Work hard and keep learning. It will all pay off. You have the choice of working in industry for a large or small company, a research organization, or the government. I did all four. They all have their advantages. When working for a small company you have to become the expert in all areas which is nice for learning and broadening your experience. When working for a large company, you have the ability to find all kinds of very smart experts you can go to for help and to learn from them. In working for a large organization it is advantageous if they offer a technical path as well as a managerial path for advancement. If you want to change jobs do it early in your career and then plan to stick to one job until retirement. At a small organization you sometimes can get work at a system level early in your career. This was the case at Columbia where a year out of college I was doing the top level design of a UHF defense phased array radar. My first year was involved with the design, building and testing of a pulsed oscillator. At RADC they gave me the responsibility of evaluating the Armstrong FM radar they were funding re its capability to see targets beyond the horizon. That was the radar of the famous Armstrong who invented the FM radio and superheterodyne receiver. I also had the opportunity to be part of the testing of the resolution of a RCA air traffic control radar. I also had the opportunity to be part of the testing of the resolution of a RCA air traffic control radar. I was to measure the distance between two twin engine Gooney birds (C-47s) that where to flew by the radar near Atlantic City at various altitudes. It was an eight hour flight - my first time flying. They gave me a parachute so I asked how to use the parachute. The pilot said “you go down with the aircraft”.
There may be concern that if your first job is in a big company, you may be stuck in a job involving one small part of a big system. That is probably something that can happen even in a small organization. I know of one person, Dennis Picard, who came to Raytheon without an engineering degree and worked his way up to be the CEO of Raytheon. I believe it was his first job. So it really depends to a large extend on the individual how he progresses. While working at Raytheon Dennis got his bachelors in EE and a business master’s degree from Northeastern University going to night school. As he advanced to higher positions, he brought in bigger and bigger contracts. He saved the Patriot radar when it was about to be cancelled by the government because of production problems. As CEO he doubled the size of the company through acquisitions, acquiring parts of E-Systems, TI and Hughes.
It pays early in your career to speak to career advisors, especially when you are thinking of changing jobs. I recommend at least talk to two advisors. I did that when I finished my doctorate and was looking for a job change. They each gave me very useful advice. One gave me advice about choosing the job based on geographic location and other factors. Specifically pick the Raytheon Boston job offer rather than the Texas Instruments job for a few reasons. My wife and I had family in New York City and TI would be too far away. Secondly if it does not work out at TI, I may have to relocate again whereas in the Boston area I could probably find another organization to work at without relocating. He also advised me to buy TI stock but not to work there. Work at Raytheon but do not buy their stock. He was wrong on the latter and a year later I went back tell him to buy Raytheon stock. The other advisor, Haldeman himself from the then well-known Haldeman Associates, after a few telling questions regarding my past indicated I was not geared for a management career, instead for a technical contributor career. He was right in that. I did try the management career and quickly saw it was not for me.
You can also seek advice from your colleagues and those senior to you. Ellen Ferraro has given a talk entitled “Achieving Work-Life Balance” giving advice that is very useful. A summary can be found in the IEEE Women in Engineering Magazine, June 2016 issue, pp. 9-11. It is useful to go for interviews at many companies early in your career. This way you learn what is out there. In my case it taught me that I had a very good job and did not have to look elsewhere. I learned about the most valuable capabilities in the market place. When I was changing jobs after getting my doctorate I thought I would go into one the fields that were more fashionable at the time like lasers or text recognition. I quickly learned from job hunting to value my past experience and use it to grow from there. Good luck on what should be a very rewarding and exciting career!
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