Adit Singh wanted to fly airplanes when he grew up. “I received my first flying license before my first driver’s license,” said Singh, the Godbold Chair Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering within Auburn University’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. “When I began flying, we flew gliders and small planes with very primitive electronic equipment. Gauges were mechanical, and often we had no radio.”
Thanks to researchers like Singh, however, many devices—including countless household items—are no longer built with primitive electronics.
“Tiny, integrated circuit chips are the heart of micro-computers,” Singh said. “These are the marvels of microelectronic technology that have powered the internet revolution and the economy in recent decades.”
Singh, a Life Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers whose Auburn career began in 1991 after a stint as a professor at the University of Massachusetts, has trained and educated thousands of engineers from leading semiconductor companies worldwide in cutting-edge technologies associated with the design and testing of integrated circuit chips.
For his contributions to industry and enhancing careers of countless engineers worldwide, Singh was presented the prestigious Auburn University 2021 Award for Excellence in Faculty Outreach.
“Throughout his impressive career, Dr. Singh has exhibited a unique capacity to identify important problems in the field, create technical solutions and also develop translational outreach programs,” said Christopher B. Roberts, dean of engineering. “Auburn University and dozens of semiconductor manufacturers are stronger as a result of Dr. Singh’s contributions.”
Department of Electronical and Computer Engineering Chair Mark Nelms considers Singh, “the embodiment of outreach and impact” and an “ambassador for Auburn University.”
“We have all benefited from the rapid developments in these ubiquitous integrated circuits as they can be found in everyday devices such as cell phones, televisions, home appliances and automobiles,” Nelms said.
Singh’s reputation in the research community, particularly with adaptive testing technology, allowed him to develop tutorials on advanced, cutting-edge topics in the testing of integrated circuits to screen out subtle manufacturing defects that can cause operational failures in electronic systems.
What happens if one of the circuit chips malfunctions? How can one determine which internal component caused the problem? How can bad chips be discovered before they are placed into a cell phone or computer? These questions must be asked, then answered.
“You’ve got to find the bad apples in the integrated circuit production line,” Singh said. “You must thoroughly test each one of the millions of chips manufactured every day worldwide.”
Singh’s initial research on adaptive test methodology, funded by the National Science Foundation, also involved collaboration with IBM from 2000-03. Adaptive testing is a generic term for a variety of techniques designed to improve the test quality, and/or reducing the test application costs. Within this procedure, a part’s pass/fail limit is not standardized, or fixed as they are in conventional device testing.
“Senior industry engineers and managers are often skeptical of academic research,” Singh said. “What can an academic teach us, they ask? What do professors understand of the immediate needs of industry given our rapidly advancing technology?
“None of this information gets into any textbook until long after it is out of date. It takes time to gain their trust, and show them that you have something of value to offer them. Having this exposure of frequently presenting outreach tutorial to highly experienced engineers from the top semiconductor companies facing the detailed technical questions they pose, many of which lead to intense discussions, helps me get a good picture of what’s going on within industry. Why are they asking these questions? What are their needs?”
Whereas, Singh has taken great pride in being instrumental in building successful engineering careers, he pointed out that the many industry professionals he educates help spark his own creativity and research that makes a meaningful impact.
“Research is a reasonable way of disseminating information,” he said. “But to have impact, you must understand what the industry really wants, or needs. This is where my exchanges within industry, and engineering professionals, have become most useful. To me, outreach is to be out there with the professionals, the engineers and the designers. There, we have a full exchange of ideas.”
When a pupil leaves Singh’s classroom and walks into industry, what educational tools are most important?
“That’s very simple,” Singh said. “The fundamentals. The basic concepts of technology. Things have changed a lot in the past 30 years. Technology is rapidly advancing.
“As an engineering professor, if you spend most of your time having them learn a specific piece of hardware or software, you can be sure that tomorrow that design will be obsolete. The professional who is trained well is the one who can understand the basic, fundamental engineering concepts that he or she has learned. Specifics of the technology change, but the fundamentals do not.”
Singh still enjoys teaching within classrooms at Auburn and through tutorials and conferences spanning the globe. He still enjoys research and the never-ending search to answer the questions “why?” or “how?” that benefits industry, and ultimately the lives of millions.
And, of course, he still hopes to be able to devote more time to flying again someday.