Laudatio voor Professor Anantha Chandrakasan

Speech delivered by Wim Dehaene in Leuven on 10 February 2016

Speech delivered by Wim Dehaene in Leuven on 10 February 2016

Professor Anantha Chandrakasan is one of the most influential researchers in the field of integrated circuit design. This sentence makes most sense to other researchers from that field. To anyone else, the enormous impact of Professor Chandrakasan’s work may not be obvious at first. And yet, integrated circuits have radically changed our everyday lives. Is it still possible to imagine a society without internet, tablets, or mobile phones? Can you imagine your daily life without wireless garage openers or TV remote controls? None of these things can exist without integrated circuits or chips, as they are usually called. It is a common mistake to think that the information society is only about software. Software needs a platform to run on, and that platform is a piece of hardware. At the heart of that hardware are chips.

In the world of integrated circuits there is a law, Moore’s law, about the complexity of chips. It is actually not really a law but rather a prophecy delivered by Gordon Moore. Back in 1965, he predicted that the number of transistors – switches, if you like – on digital chips would double every two years. The prophecy came true: the number of transistors on digital chips has been doubling every two years for the past five decades. This is where Professor Anantha Chandrakasan’s research kicks in. Technology provides us with ever smaller transistors, but a whole engineering science had to be developed to determine how digital circuits are to be designed with first thousands, later millions and even billions of those transistors. When, in the late eighties, the wireless revolution started with the advent of the mobile phone, circuit design became even more of a challenge: tremendous complexity had to be combined with low energy consumption. The challenge is still there after all those years. Energy in a battery is scarce and nobody wants to recharge his phone every hour. Yet, new, ever smarter apps arise every day.

Professor Chandrakasan’s iconic paper about low-power digital circuit design dates from 1992. He was not even a professor in those days, but a PhD student with Bob Brodersen in Berkeley. Yet, the famous paper is still on the reading list of every microelectronics student worldwide. But that was only the start. Later, Professor Chandrakasan joined the MIT EECS department, that other famous breeding ground for brilliant designers. From his team originate ground-breaking papers on near-threshold logic and reference processor designs for any design engineer or academic researcher trying to further reduce the energy consumption of his circuit.

Making Moore’s prophecy into Moore’s law is an achievement of many industrial players and researchers, but, beyond any doubt, Professor Anantha Chandrakasan is among the most prominent of them.

But there is more. Ground-breaking research in itself is not enough. Research requires dissemination and debate. Engineering research must pass the test of industrial relevance and implementation. In that respect, too, Professor Chandrakasan has outstanding merits. He has been heading the world’s most famous forum on integrated circuit design, the International Solid-State Circuits Conference, or ISSCC for the insiders, for several years now. We can safely say that this forum is the place where integrated circuit designers from industry and academy cross swords, challenge each other’s results, and get new inspiration. Thanks to his relentless efforts, Professor Chandrakasan has managed to maintain the balance between technical content and logistic considerations, between fundamental research and implemented engineering science.

Last but not least, Professor Chandrakasan’s striving for academic education and involvement of adolescents in technology deserves credit as well. He set up several programmes where students can develop themselves to become professionals with a good eye for technical skills but also responsible entrepreneurs in an ever more complex society. His efforts to engage more women are particularly worth mentioning . All of this makes Anantha Chandrakasan the all-round, committed scholar he is.

We can safely say that integrated circuit design would never be the success story it is today without the invaluable contributions of Professor Anantha Chandrakasan. It is a story of fundamental research results. It is a story of iconic publications. It is a story of milestone designs. It is a story of world forums where researchers and designers from all over the world meet. And finally, it is a story of high-quality academic education and social relevance. There are many co-authors, but the story is signed Anantha Chandrakasan.

Om al deze redenen, Mijnheer de Rector, verzoek ik u, op voordracht van de Academische Raad, het eredoctoraat van de KU Leuven te verlenen aan professor Anantha Chandrakasan.