Designing an ECE Winner from the Top-down: Padmini Gopalakrishnan

 

January 29, 2004

Whether finding solutions for wireload uncertainty or winning accolades through her Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC) Graduate Fellowship, second year ECE graduate student Padmini Gopalakrishnan is wired for success. Chosen in the nationwide SRC contest for outstanding academic achievement and microelectronics research, and the recipient of an ECE 2002 Center for Silicon System Implementation (CSSI) Fellowship, Gopalakrishnan was already a Senior Software Engineer with two patents in development before returning to school.

She discussed "Wireload Models - The Curse of Top-down Design" as a guest speaker for the CSSI in 2001, while on the R&D team at Monterey Design Systems in Sunnyvale, CA. Gopalakrishnan was intrigued by Larry Pileggi's study of electronic integrated systems, and he later became her advisor.

"I first met Padmini four years ago, after her MS work, and just as she began working in industry. I knew then that she was someday going to return to a research environment," said Pileggi, Tanoto Professor of ECE and CSSI Director.

Gopalakrishnan recalled, "I liked the small and collaborative nature of the department and the fact that people talked to each other." Impressed by the breath of subjects covered by ECE, she was especially drawn to the wide range of CSSI research, spanning from system level design down to manufacturing.

Time outside the university gave Gopalakrishnan new insight when she returned to the classroom: "I think you appreciate the opportunity to learn more after you've been away for awhile," she discovered. Her courses have included 18-523 [now 18-623], Analog Integrated Circuit Design, taught by Pileggi and Tamal Mukherjee, Associate Research Professor, ECE, and 18-762, Circuit Simulation: Theory and Practice, with Pileggi. She also aided ECE Professor David Greve as a graduate assistant for 18-321, Analysis and Design of Analog Circuits.

Mukherjee remembered Gopalakrishnan's initiative in class: "Padmini always went beyond the norm in the designs she pursued for 18-523 in the fall of 2002," he recollected. "For example, in the operational amplifier (opamp) design project, where most students were considering a vanilla two-stage opamp, Padmini designed a folded cascode opamp topology."

Her research interests include VLSI CAD algorithms (especially for physical design and logic synthesis), VLSI design flows and methodologies, field program gate arrays (FPGAs), graph theory, and via patterned gate arrays (VPGAs). Studying the synthesis and physical design of regular circuit platforms, she focuses on "trying to take advantage of properties or characteristics of the underlying platform when optimizing a design," an approach she may develop for her thesis.

"Padmini has a great knack for seeing all sides of the research problem, and is very determined and creative in her approach to solving them. I have no doubts that her Ph.D. thesis will be a significant contribution to the field. She's already well on her way," Pileggi reported.

While optimistic about future results, Gopalakrishnan knows there are challenges ahead. "Like any research, it is an open question now," she said, adding, "It's fun to learn a lot of new things along the way. Ultimately, when you solve a problem it feels very good, but I'm not there, yet."

Optimizing her connections as she plans a career in research, Gopalakrishnan networks with her peers at Carnegie Mellon and other universities as an EGO and IEEE member, and by attending events such as the Design Automation Conference (DAC) in San Francisco and San Diego. Her most recent publication, part of the proceedings for the 2003 DAC, was "Exploring Regular Fabrics to Optimize the Performance-Cost Trade-off," with Pileggi; Herman Schmit, Associate Professor of ECE; Andrzej Strowjas, Keithley Professor of ECE; and classmates Veerbhan Kheterpal, Aneesh Koorapaty, Chetan Patel, Vyacheslav Rovner, and Kim Yaw Tong.

She earned her B. Tech. in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, and a M.S. in ECE from the University of Texas at Austin. Her hobbies include singing classical Indian music and reading.

Originally from India, Gopalakrishnan followed in her father's footsteps when she chose engineering, "I liked math and physics in high school, and my dad's an engineer, so I would always follow him around while he fixed things around the house. I liked solving problems."

 

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