Featured Engineer

Interview with Cherish Bauer-Reich

Cherish Bauer-Reich

Cherish Bauer-Reich - Research Engineer at NDSU Center for Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE)

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

I got into it by accident: I never had any intention of going into engineering. I had just finished my undergrad in physics and was interested in doing electromagnetics work in graduate school. I had to stay in Fargo for family reasons, and the only professor who did electromagnetics research was in electrical engineering. I was lucky he took me on as a student because I told him that I didn’t really want to be an engineer! I changed my mind after I found out that electrical engineering wasn’t all about laying out PCBs.

What are your favorite hardware tools that you use?

Given my focus is electromagnetic simulation, I’m surprised at how much hardware I’ve actually had to use. What I’m using depends on what I’m working on, but overall I’ve gotten a lot of use out of the high speed oscilloscope, spectrum analyzer, network analyzer, and impedance analyzer. I also love our PCB mill, as we can quickly prototype up a lot of things we need. I feel a strong need to validate my simulation work through measurement, so even though I prefer computer work, I have to get my hands dirty once in a while.

What are your favorite software tools that you use?

Matlab is my hands-down favorite, but I don’t get to work with it as often as I’d like. I use a couple electromagnetic simulation tools: NEC, Ansys HFSS, and Agilent Momentum.

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

We were getting answers from some of our emag simulations that were very close to canonical problems, but off by just a bit. As I was writing up my MS thesis, I found a problem with one of our power calculations. I spent a lot of time hunting down the problem, but some of it turned out to be that the program we were using accepted an imaginary impedance value, even though it couldn’t use it. Once I found this out, not only was the power problem fixed, but our solutions matched up with analytical solutions, as well. It was a relief (and a bit of an ego boost) to finally track down the problem that was plaguing other people, not just myself.

What is on your bookshelf?

Sadiku’s “Computational Electromagnetics”, Pozar’s “Microwave Engineering”, and the antenna texts by Balanis and Stutzman and Thiele. The book I use the most, however, is actually Griffith’s “Electrodynamics.”

Do you have any tricks up your sleeve?

I’ve noticed that, coming from a physics background, I tend to look at results by trying to think about the physical behavior of things like currents and fields. I find it gives me a strong intuitive way to approach problems. Many of my colleagues tend to think about things from the circuits perspective. I think being able to talk about things from these different viewpoints enriches our understanding and means my colleagues and I learn a lot from each other.

What has been your favorite project?

I recently developed an RFID tag that works on metal, essentially using a metal container as an antenna. I enjoyed the project because I conceived the idea independently and am taking it through the development process. A close second was working on UHF RFID for tracking cattle simply because there are so many jokes to make about electronics on cows. (What do you call a cow at zero volts? Ground beef!)

Do you have any note-worthy engineering experiences?

I have a reputation for things breaking around me, especially after a computer video card started on fire after I moved it. Generally, the other engineers don’t like having me in the lab because they’re afraid I’m going to wreck their measurements. (They will swear that my walking in the room alone is enough.) I’ve also done work on ESD, and of course that meant I got a few zaps with the ESD gun.

What are you currently working on?

I’m doing a couple things right now. I’m focusing a lot on RF electronics packaging. I’m also pursuing a couple projects involving RFID in challenging environments.

Outside of work, I’m also working on a PhD dissertation in solar physics. I write both at my own blog (cherishthescientist.net) and EngineerBlogs.org, which I founded along with Chris Gammell, FrauTech, and Fluxor. Finally, I manage to fit in some time with my family here and there.

What direction do you see your business heading in the next few years?

The challenge in research is, of course, finding funding. In the current economic climate, that can be rather difficult, and everyone is getting hit fairly hard.

What challenges do you foresee in our industry?

I think there will be more demand for RF engineers with the move toward miniaturization and wireless communications. Unfortunately, I don’t see as much interest in that as other areas of electrical engineering. Balancing that demand with lack of interest could be tricky.

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