Tabrizian to Receive DARPA Young Faculty Award

ECE Assistant Professor Dr. Roozbeh Tabrizian is set to receive a 2019 DARPA Young Faculty Award for his proposal, “Ferroelectrically Transduced Ge Nano-Fin Bulk Acoustic Resonators for Chip-Scale Instinctually Adaptive RF Spectral Processing.” The prestigious $500K award will support Tabrizian’s efforts to protect cutting-edge civilian and military communication systems from jamming and interference using a novel approach based on nonlinear electro-mechanical scattering in germanium nano-fin bulk acoustic resonators.

Despite the esoteric title, Tabrizian’s work has critical real-world implications. With the exponential increase in wireless data communication traffic due to the emerging 5G and IoT revolutions, counteracting interference is a major challenge in wireless systems. More importantly, malicious interference (i.e. jamming) can result in disruption to tactical (military) communications.

Consider a soldier in the field with a hand-held satellite radio—successful communication with her commanding officer can be a matter of a life and death. Any technology which would prevent the jamming of these types of super-secure, military wireless networks would be considered critical to tactical readiness and national security. Tabrizian’s project marks a sea change in the area, using novel materials and methods to ensure secure access to wireless spectrum.

The current state-of-the-art in interference management and jamming protection relies on software-based techniques which focus on identification of interference patterns and then reconfiguring the wireless system to avoid jamming signals. These current schemes identify interference and jamming signals after they have been received and processed. Identification requires significant computing resources and are by nature slow and energy-intensive. And since they only work after the signal is received and processed, they are by definition reactive. Avoiding jammed frequencies becomes a never-ending battle as malicious jammers simply follow and target the new communication channels.

Tabrizian’s hardware-based approach involves transforming nano-scale components to ‘instinctually’ identify and block interfering signal prior to entering the system.

Tabrizian notes, “Using the human body as a metaphor for a wireless system, jamming signals are like infections that need to be suppressed. We want to prevent the bad signals from getting spread around the body, so we attack and remove them wherever they appear over frequency spectrum. Our proposed technique is like an immune system for the wireless system. We natively detect and suppress the malicious signals before they can get loose in the system. The proposed nanoscale components do this instinctively, without being told.”

What does all this mean? Tabrizian’s nano-devices would be incorporated into chip-scale components and then be integrated into ultra-compact tactical systems, enabling secure access to satellite communications—hand-held, secure, jam-proof communications devices for military applications. His proposed technology would miniaturize these communications devices by several orders of magnitude and would be the first ever to so radically reduce their size, weight, and power consumption.

The objective of the DARPA Young Faculty Award (YFA) program is to identify and engage rising stars in junior research positions, particularly those without prior DARPA funding, and to familiarize them with DoD needs and DARPA’s program development process.

Tabrizian’s research group is focused on development of novel nano-scale integrated components based on the use of mixed-domain electro-mechanical interactions to address the emerging needs in spectral processing, reference generation, and sensing applications. Tabrizian is also a recipient of an NSF CAREER Award that follows radical approaches to enhance the spectrum-use efficiency through development of non-reciprocal spectral processors in cm- and mm-wave regimes.