September 20, 2010
The Private Life of a Wireless Designer
Peter Popplewell lives a double life. During the day, he designs parts for cellular phones for Skyworks Solutions, supporting his wife and children. At night, he invents novel circuitry that earns him recognition and awards.
His innovative radio chip can operate on solar energy alone and sets a milestone for reducing the size and the power consumption of wireless communication devices. His work could be applied to biomedical sensors on patients undergoing radiation therapy and to grocery items to avoid scanning and long waits in line.
“This is my academic life,” says Popplewell, 31, who won the University Medal this spring for his outstanding doctoral work, the OCRI Student Researcher of the Year award in 2007and an IEEE Solid-State Circuits Society predoctoral fellowship in 2006.
His work could be applied to grocery items to avoid scanning and long waits in line.
In his private life, Popplewell would rather be hunting ducks or fishing with his three-year-old son, or bicycling or camping with family, than in front of a computer.
“Ironically, I kind of hate technology,” he admits. “I have an old cell phone on a pay-as-you-go plan. Technology has taken away the art of communication. Nevertheless, I appreciate its benefits and I have a job because of it.”
Popplewell fell into the field during his high school years, when high technology was booming. He applied to a Nortel program and found himself, at the age of 15, witnessing “all the cool things going on” in Internet research.
He enrolled in Carleton’s aerospace engineering program in 1998, but the high-tech boom drew him into electronics. He completed his undergraduate degree, his master’s and PhD in the same field, moving from fibre optics to wireless design.
His supervisor, electronics professor and IEEE advisor Calvin Plett, was Popplewell’s turning point.
“He opened my eyes to wireless circuits. He is really the reason I stuck around.”
Popplewell, says Plett, “is possibly the most well-rounded individual I have ever had the pleasure of supervising. He excelled in academics and research, as well as in collaborating with other researchers, in turning his research into a business case, and . . . at communicating his ideas to fellow students, to faculty, to the Ottawa research and business community, and the general public.”
Popplewell is waiting to hear back from patents he filed in Canada and the United States. In the future, he imagines he will help students much like himself with their research.
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