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Summer 2014 interns at HP Labs – Phillip Sandborn


Contributed by Simon Firth, freelance technology journalist


Philip-Sandborn_web.jpgPhillip Sandborn is a 3rd year Ph.D. student in electrical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, where his thesis project has him building a next-generation camera-on-a-chip. The son of two electrical engineers, Sandborn grew up in Texas and Maryland before studying for undergraduate degrees in both electrical engineering and math at the University of Maryland. He’s also worked as an intern with the US Army, where he researched field-deployed sensing systems. When he’s not working, Sandborn enjoys backpacking. “Once every two months or so I like to get out in the wilderness for a few days,” he says.


HP: What’s your project this summer?

I’m helping with the characterization of high speed VCSELs. VCSEL stands for Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Laser and we directly modulate these VCSELs at very high speeds in order to create very fast optical links. What I’m working on specifically is the measurement and modeling of these VCSELs to try and understand the fundamental limitations of these devices. Before I leave at the end of the summer, I’m hoping to model the entire optical link, from the transmitter to the receiver, so that we can predict and optimize the performance of these optical links within our computer systems.


HP: Is this connected to HP Labs’ major research effort to build The Machine?

Yes, in order to build The Machine, we need to connect server racks with very fast optical fiber – or photonic – links. The photonic links overcome the power, bandwidth and distance constraints of copper links. So that’s what we’re looking to help build.


HP: How’s the work going?

There was definitely a big learning curve coming in because I hadn’t really done high frequency measurements before and I had to learn that pretty fast. Now I’m mostly done with the test and measurement process in the lab and I’m working on circuit modeling, using my experimental data to support it. I’ve got three or four weeks’ worth of work left, but I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to predict the behavior of these VCSELs.


HP: Can you tell us about your academic research?

At Berkeley, I’m working on silicon photonics, which is another kind of photonics that HP is researching, but not what I’m working on this summer. In silicon photonics, instead of modulating the laser, you build waveguides in silicon for the light that you then modulate. For my Ph.D. project, I’m actually building an integrated LiDAR camera, using both kinds of photonics to create a small 3D imager on a chip.


HP: How will your research this summer connect back to your Ph.D. thesis?

A lot of my Ph.D. work is at the systems level. This is giving me some practical experience with real-world device modeling, linking the physics up to the engineering of the entire system, which will be really valuable.  


HP: What have you enjoyed so far about working at HP Labs?

I’m working in Mike Tan’s research group and everyone is very open with what they are working on and supportive of each other. I’ve had other experiences where people aren’t that way, so I really appreciate it. Plus it’s helped me learn a lot in a short time period. It’s also been neat to learn about The Machine since I’ve been here – it’s exciting to be a part of that work.

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