October 22, 2008

Practical Applications of Computer Engineering

Chris Dionisio ’10 writes about his EXCEL research project

EASTON, Pa., October 22, 2008 — Electrical and computer engineering major Chris Dionisio ’10 (Millington, N.J.) spent a portion of his summer researching a hybrid routing accelerator as part of the EXCEL program. John Nestor, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, was his faculty adviser.

Professor Nestor and I discussed his research and design for a hardware-based routing accelerator. He explained to me the general idea, as well as what my responsibilities as a research assistant would entail. I had been searching for an opportunity to gain experience working on a real engineering project, and I was excited to finally have this chance.

When the summer began, Professor Nestor first gave me some material to read through to get a better understanding of the ideas behind routing acceleration and his design in particular. In the beginning, I was a bit nervous, as I had no previous experience with the subject, and there was a lot to learn. However, Professor Nestor took the time to answer any questions I had, and after a little while, I had learned enough to start working on the project.

When I began working, I quickly realized how different it was from any homework, project, or lab that I had previously done. Generally in labs, everything is set up for you, and all you have to do is write code or make connections. Here, the first step was to set up a computer and update the drivers so the device could properly interface with the computer. It was only after this that I began looking at the actual code that had been previously done on the design and working to extend it.

As the summer went on, with Professor Nestor’s help, I began to make progress on extending the design. In particular, I worked on including pattern routing and a better way of storing the results of each route in order to improve the speed of the routing accelerator.

Thinking back, what I learned most from the experience was how many different subjects came into play when working on this project. To design a routing accelerator, you don’t just need to know about routing; you need to know about everything that goes along with designing hardware. I had to learn about device driver code, the Verilog Hardware Description Language, algorithm analysis, and more, just to work on extending an existing design. I am very thankful to both Lafayette and Professor Nestor for giving me such a great opportunity.

  • Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • EXCEL/Undergraduate Research

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