(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another in our continuing periodic series of articles focused on research initiatives at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Daniel Loveless is a Chattanooga native who left the community for college, first at Georgia Tech and then at Vanderbilt University, but returned to his hometown in 2014 as part of the wave of new faculty being recruited to build robust research portfolios at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC).
In his case, it is research in the areas of “radiation-hardened-by-design” microelectronics, analog and mixed-signal circuit design, low-power electronics, and embedded systems. Since arriving at UTC after five years as a Research Assistant Professor at Vanderbilt’s Institute for Space and Defense Electronics, Loveless as secured several million dollars in research funding including about $1.4 million in active grants.
The funding comes from a variety of federal agencies including the National Science Foundation, NASA, Department of Defense and its Missile Defense Agency, and the Air Force Research Lab, and also involves a number of collaborations with some of the major R1 research universities including his two alma maters.
Perhaps the most notable of these collaborations is SCALE, an acronym that stands for “Scalable Asymmetric Lifecycle Engagement.” Led by Purdue University, the $19.2 million, multi-university, public-private-academic partnership will help address the urgent need for engineering graduates to develop defense technologies, especially in the area of microelectronics.
“Most of the partners are R1s, but UTC is not,” Loveless says. “It took a lot of work to get us involved,” but, like so many UTC faculty members we have met recently, they are not motivated solely by securing research grants. In fact, so much of their drive is to enhance the educational experience of their students ahead of graduation.
“Microelectronics is a big issue right now,” he says, noting the global shortage of semiconductors due to the increased consumer demand for high performing electronics applications. “New fabrication facilities that can compete with the state of the art cost billions of dollars to realize; consequently, there are only a few companies worldwide that can manufacture chips that are meeting the consumer needs,” Loveless adds.
His focus area is much more specific – the radiation effects in microelectronics. “The niche focus area of radiation-hardened microelectronics is a specific issue that is beginning to be critical for not only space-bound electronics, but terrestrial systems,” Loveless says. “We are starting to see new challenges in developing reliable, secure, and trustworthy systems by not only the space and defense sector, but the commercial sectors, especially in large data centers, the automotive industry, and others. Radiation effects and reliability engineers are critical for making this happen.”
For the recently named Guerry Professor at UTC, a planned career trajectory in electrical engineering was altered after Loveless saw the amazing work underway at Vanderbilt.
“Vandy has the largest radiation effects program in the world,” he says, adding, “I didn’t realize it existed, but I fell in love with the field.” So, one might ask, why did Loveless move from the largest research program in his discipline to UTC?
“I wanted to teach, but also innovate in my field,” he explains, noting that his title at Vanderbilt was Research Assistant Professor. “I saw UTC’s interest in supporting me to build this program. We started seven years ago, and it quickly grew.”
Loveless cites several factors in that growth curve, starting with UTC’s innovative way of engaging undergraduates in its research programs, the relationships that he and others have developed with research partners, and the growing awareness that radiation effects on electronics is not limited to space but has also emerged as a national concern.
“In space, it was an issue for years, but now it is becoming a concern on earth,” he says, explaining that the concerns transcend everything from the reliability of the microelectronics infrastructure to the effects of radiation on the ever-growing number of data centers to the security of our defense systems.
Loveless’ accomplishments were acknowledged by UTC when the institution selected a project he proposed as one of eight to be funded by the Center of Excellence in Applied Computational Science and Engineering (CEACSE). His proposal is focused on a novel tamper forensic technique that has the potential to impact all levels of electronics systems through verifiable trust.
Loveless is also involved in exploring a fairly new area that is emerging – artificial intelligence (AI) in space. He says that he started exploring AI as a tool to combat issues researchers see in space radiation and actually published several papers on the topic, part of the nearly 100 already published in his young career in peer-reviewed journals.
In 2019 the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Nuclear and Plasma Sciences Society awarded him its “Radiation Effects Early Achievement Award” for contributions to radiation effects research in high-speed analog and mixed-signal electronics and student mentorship in the radiation effects community.
What are his longer term goals? “Within five years, I want UTC positioned as a Center of Excellence (in this field). There’s a national imperative and a regional set of partners that can make it happen.”