Thursday, December 8, 2016

URSP Student Chris Carlson Tracks the Movement of Energy Throughout non-equilibrium Chaotic Systems

My name is Chris Carlson and I study Electrical Engineering and Physics. My current research focuses on tracking the movement of energy throughout non-equilibrium chaotic systems -- more specifically, Chua’s circuit. I initially became interested in the project while I was a lab assistant at the Krasnow Institute, where my work involved creating a simulation of Chua’s circuit. During my sophomore year I began researching different variations of the circuit that I could study. I chose a circuit that only uses four transistors, which was easier to model than other variations of the circuit. The project merges topics from both physics and electrical engineering, so I viewed it as an opportunity to apply the theoretical knowledge obtained from my classes.

In the future I would like to pursue a master’s degree in either physics or electrical engineering. My OSCAR project has allowed me to expand my lab skills and tackle problems that would never have arisen in the classroom. The research has also introduced me to more topics in microelectronic circuits, which is a class that I am taking concurrently with my research. I find the topic to be very interesting and I am now considering a career in this field.

I usually work in the lab once or twice a week. My work involves three main aspects: modeling the circuit, physically implementing the circuit, and comparing data from both the model and physical circuit. I use MATLAB to simulate the circuit and its transistors. Transistors have many variables, so my model is always being ‘fine-tuned’ to account for new parameters. For the physical circuit, I spend a lot of time troubleshooting the circuit due to its sensitivity. Finally, when comparing both the model and the circuit data, I use a mathematical algorithm called a Kalman filter to help me validate the model.

As a beginner researcher, I have discovered that there are a lot of obstacles. Some of the largest hurdles can arise from the smallest problems. It sometimes takes weeks and diligence to prepare a circuit in order to take data for just five minutes. I have also learned some valuable laboratory methods. For instance, sometimes a researcher has to be creative when taking measurements. Not every research project has tools specifically made for taking data. As a researcher, I have to devise a method of collecting data easily and accurately.

So far the project has helped me expand my knowledge in many areas. Sometimes I read an article that pops up on my news feed about chaos in transistor circuits and I get excited to see the relation between my work and others’ work. It is very satisfying to see that this area of research is so significant that many others are also pursuing it.  I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute through my own work.