Featured Engineer

Interview with Alan Mantooth

Alan Mantooth

Alan Mantooth - Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering; University of Arkansas

How did you get into electronics/ engineering and when did you start?

I got into it as an undergraduate EE major. I did an internship with Texas Instruments, then another, and then did my master’s work under a TI fellowship. I did this while working for my advisor, Dr. Jerry Yeargan, who was an analog IC design professor at Arkansas.

What attracted you to the engineering profession?

My knack for math and problem solving as well as the utility of the degree. I am the son and grandson of men who worked with their hands as skilled laborers. Granddad, dad, uncles, and brother were all plumbers and my other granddad was a boilermaker for the railroad. I learned some of these skills as a teenager working with them, but I also learned (from them) that I could use my education to do more and earn more. I wasn’t sure what engineers did when I went to college – not having been exposed to the professions very much at that time. However, after one semester in college I changed my major to electrical engineering as I became more familiar with the field. Engineers get jobs and make money…many other degrees struggle to deliver on that. In fact, engineers make the world we live in. How far can you go in a day and NOT touch an electrical engineering related product, invention or tool? Not far.

What differentiates you from most engineers and/or professors?

I am probably one of a very few engineering professors who played football for his university – particularly at a top school such as an SEC school. I was a wide receiver in college for the Arkansas Razorbacks. I left that life of bumps and bruises to focus on electrical engineering and just kept going through the degrees getting my Ph.D. at Georgia Tech. Then, I worked in industry for 8 years before returning to Arkansas. I’ve been here 13 years now and have built a program that I’m proud of. I have had the good fortune to be able to attract funding, have great students, and change young people’s lives. It has been and continues to be very rewarding doing this at my alma mater.

What are your favorite hardware tools that you use?

My probe stations and the ensemble of instrumentation that goes with it. I enjoy measuring new semiconductor devices and understanding their behavior. However, I have a pretty nice woodworking shop filled with cool toys that I enjoy even more!

What are your favorite software tools that you use?

Saber and ModLyng, but I’m biased. I worked for Analogy, the creators of Saber. Saber is a fantastic mixed-signal/mixed-technology simulator that was way ahead of its time, but has stood the test of time. This tool is now sold by Synopsys. I invented ModLyng. ModLyng is a modeling and design tool that allows the user to create models at a conceptual level rather than in a hardware description language. It is unique in what it does.

What is the hardest/trickiest bug you have ever fixed?

Ooo…I can’t recall.

What is on your bookshelf?

Besides a LOT of technical books, I have three daughters and I have a lot of books on how not to kill their boyfriends. To be honest, I don’t get to read for pleasure much. I am way too busy reading technical material and managing my research program, which consists of about 25 graduate students a couple of post-docs, six full-time staff and three centers of excellence. My wife and daughters are avid readers and the give me reader’s digest versions over dinner.

Do you have any tricks up your sleeve?

Yes, I have some tricks to solve convergence problems in compact models that most people do not know how to do. And, no, I won’t elaborate.

What has been your favorite project?

One of my favorite projects was a large NASA project of electronics for extreme environments. This project was part of a big team led out of Georgia Tech and included Arkansas, Tennessee, Auburn, Vanderbilt, Maryland, Boeing, BAE Systems, Lynguent, IBM, and NASA/JPL. It was a 5-year project and a great pleasure to work on with my colleagues and students. We are now writing a book to be released by CRC Press on designing electronics for extreme environments. Our team has had electronics on the space station and we hope to insert them into future missions.

Do you have any note-worthy engineering experiences?

Inventing the world’s first conceptual modeling tool for hardware description languages – ModLyng (see above). Also, the semiconductor device models that we have developed (both when I was industry and now in academia) have had a huge impact on the industry in power electronics, so that is noteworthy.

What are you currently working on?

My research team is investigating advanced topics in IC design, CAD, power electronics and semiconductor device modeling. Almost all of this research contributes in one way or another to advanced power electronic systems for electrified transportation or smart grid hardware. We have done some nice work in single chip gate drivers, power electronic module design (won an R&D 100 Award in 2009), power semiconductor and microelectronic device modeling with some world firsts in silicon LDMOS modeling over wide temperature and silicon carbide S-GTO, IGBT, diode, JFET and MOSFET modeling.

What challenges do you foresee in our industry?

The biggest challenges I see are in attracting young people to the field. We need more EEs! I simply do not understand how so many young people can claim to be technology saavy and yet not want to be part of the field that invents, innovates, designs, manufactures and markets so many of these technologies. There are outstanding opportunities for young people in electrical engineering and will be for the next two decades and probably long after.

Another challenge I see is in keeping the research engine in our field running efficiently so that innovations continue to flow along with talented young minds coming out of school to sustain the workforce. This takes commitment from the business sector, universities, and the federal government and these commitments seem to ebb and flow with a bit more uncertainty these days. In areas like grid modernization, will the federal government remain committed to it? Or is this a short-term blip?

What do you enjoy outside of electrical engineering?

As a former football, basketball, baseball and track athlete I am very much an outdoorsman. I enjoy golf, hunting, fishing, and hiking in the mountains. I also took up woodworking to satisfy my hands-on, skilled labor upbringing as well as my desire to create, design, and build. I’ve made lots of things for my family and friends mainly. Also, I am a family man. I have a wonderful wife of 25 years next June and three beautiful teenage daughters and I enjoy seeing them grow and being a fan in their activities such as Irish Dance, Marching Band, music, and cross-country track.

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