Hanging up my Clogs

Not literally though, considering the fact that I don’t own a pair of clogs; they aren’t very practical anyway. But figuratively speaking, my time in the Netherlands has come to an end. I graduated last week from the MSc program in Electrical Engineering. I received my degree approximately 2 years and 4 days after reaching Delft, but a lot has happened in between.

View from two years ago. Not much has changed!

As I see the curious new faces in campus I am reminded of my first week in Delft. I was equally curious to explore the new town I had ventured into, and equally amazed by the differences I observed here. I met people from everywhere during the Introduction Programme and Master Kick-off and together we learned about the Dutch culture.

Jazz festival, 2017

Relaxing in the centre

I furnished my room and built my own furniture, thanks to Ikea. Eventually it became a hub for tea sessions, parties and assignments. I remember the long nights we spent together on assignments and some infamous projects which seemed almost impossible. It always worked out eventually though. That is the good thing about TU Delft – you (almost) always have another chance. It is tough, but that’s only to ensure that you actually learn what you earn your credits for.

I made a table!

I rediscovered my love for biking along with a couple of friends. We rode almost everywhere we could find a route to, around Delft. It was a great way to explore the quiet country-side and relax on the weekend. We had planned to cover the entire Netherlands and cross the border but that was a bit too far-fetched. Maybe some time in the future, if the wind is on our backs and the weather permits us, we could still try.

Prague, 2017

Nevertheless, we travelled to several countries across the EU and had a great time together. We found our own culture and food here among the people who emigrated from South East Asia. We tried on our own to recreate the sumptuous food that we all craved by learning to cook and teaching each other. It was always a joy to educate people about our own complex cultures and the concept of Indian states. We don’t all speak Hindi and we don’t all understand each other, but somehow we have amazingly survived and thrived as a country!

‘puri’s in the making

I joined the Master Promotion team to share my experience as an MSc student in TU Delft. I wrote blog posts like this and hosted information stalls at promotion events. It was fun working with the Promotion team along with other students like myself.

Freshly printed wafer

I joined the Bioelectronics group to do my thesis project. I was very lucky to get one of the best supervisors one could ask for – Prof. Wouter Serdijn. He gave me the freedom and motivation to explore an entirely new idea on my own. I was never given a set of instructions, nor was I asked to stick to a set of requirements. This style of supervision suited me very much as I felt very much in control of my project. It was at times frustrating as the ideas didn’t seem to pan out, but in the end I came up with an optimum solution which could satisfy all the requirements. It was a real light-bulb moment for me and I was elated for having created something on my own. This way I learned about doing research as well – it doesn’t always work out, but it’s always worth trying. I had a good time with the group as well. We enjoyed the BELCA festival, the sailing day and numerous movie nights together. I will miss this group very much!

With my thesis committee

What next? I am bidding farewell to the Netherlands, for now. We had submitted a paper based on our work to BioCAS, a conference specialising in bioelectronics, and it was accepted. So we would be going to Japan to present the paper. Then I would be joining a PhD position at KU Leuven and imec in Belgium. I would be returning, but to a neighbouring country.

Kinderdijk, 2019

I called Delft my home for two years, and many more students like me will do so for the years to come. Many of my batchmates have graduated already, and some are on the verge of graduation. I wish everyone all the very best for their future. Adieu!

A Wind-Powered Ride

I love biking, which must have been evident from my numerous posts about it. I am not as passionate as professional cyclists, nor do I have a bike with tyres as thin as my thumb. But I do like to explore places around Delft on my cheap touring bike. This passion is shared by a couple of friends here as well with whom I have gone on many trips.

Until last week the most distance I had covered in a day was about 90 km. The 100km milestone still eluded me. I and a couple of friends had been planning for months to go on a long tour and explore Belgium on our bikes. But the icy winter winds deterred us. Eventually we compromised and decided to ride to Vlissingen, the western-most train station in the Netherlands from where we could return home on the train. But even that had been postponed numerous times. I was busy with my thesis project and thus could not afford to spend a day on my bike.

Last week we decided to do it finally. As it was a long weekend and my circuit simulations now take at least a day to complete, I had some free time in my hands. My friend was smart to plan the trip the other way around. Rather than riding up to Vlissingen we decided to ride the way back as the wind was predicted to flow towards the north-east. That was really helpful as we realised later in the day.

Passing the traffic by the river

A pretty big flag

We took an early train to Vlissingen and reached there in about 2 hours. After having some snacks we started from the little town. It was a holiday, so people were out on their boats and biking in groups. As we made through the rural areas we could see farmlands and villages. Eventually we reached the Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier, one of the many storm barriers in the Netherlands facing the North Sea.

So far we had had no problems as the temperature was perfect and the wind was at our back. We could keep a good pace without much effort. We assumed it would be equally easy the whole way. We were not wrong, but not completely right either. As we made our way through Brouwersdam we saw many people doing kitesurfing and windsurfing near the beach. It was a pretty sight with the colourful sails and kites.

At the first bridge

Kitesurfing at the beach

Our path turned inland and we went through some dense vegetation and farms. The sun was now out of the clouds and shining bright. We reached another island through yet another storm surge barrier. The scale of those structures are impressive and a testament to the brilliant engineering capabilities of this tiny country. We had covered more than half of our journey by then and were quite elated upon realising that.

We went through some more farms and villages which reminded me of my own village in India. The smell was familiar too, although I can’t quite describe it. But the heat had now started taking its toll. We were sweating, or rather perspiring (as the saying goes – horses sweat, humans perspire) and thus losing water. We decided to find some place to eat at the next village or town we cross but couldn’t find anything on our route. Luckily I had some nuts and chocolate which helped temporarily. We carried on anyway.

This tree looks happy in the sun!

One of the storm surge barriers

Resting the horses after 100 km

We crossed the Calandbrug which is surrounded by huge but strange structures. From Rozenberg we took a ferry to reach Maassluis. Our water bottles had been emptied by then and we were dehydrated. So we made our way to a Jumbo store and bought some drinks and energy bars. It was a relief to have some fluids back in our system. We had covered almost 100 km by then. But we still had another 15 km to go. So we took some more rest in the shade of some trees and started our last leg of the journey.

Pretty boat at Maassluis

After a while the familiar EWI building came into view, a very reassuring sight. We were almost done, although tired and dehydrated. The wind was still behind us, as had been the whole day. I am not sure whether we would have completed the trip that easily had it not been for the wind pushing us the whole way.

We had covered about 110 km in total in about 8 hours. That is nothing compared to long distance tours that people often undertake. Professional cyclists would easily cover more than twice the distance in perhaps the same amount of time. But for novices like us it was still an achievement. On the way we saw many different sceneries but not very different from one another. Everywhere we saw canals, houses and bridges built in the same fashion. Thanks to the excellent bike paths (‘Fietspad’ in Dutch) we didn’t have to deal with traffic almost anywhere. Google Maps led us into some wrong paths sometimes which was a bit frustrating. Nevertheless it was a great and memorable experience. Perhaps we can plan for longer trips next time!

P.S.- All pictures courtesy of Amitabh Yadav

Windmills, Waterways and Bikes

The title just about sums up the Netherlands. But there is so much more to this country that I cannot fit into just a few words. I had a sudden realisation some time back that I am only a few months away from graduating and may no longer see these things that I had taken as part of my normal life. A senior had told me that I would not realise how the time passes in this program. Now as I look back I am surprised at how fast the past one and half years indeed went by!

All in one picture! @Kinderdijk. P.C. Amitabh Yadav

It seems as if only yesterday I and my friends were slumming together over assignments and checking our watches at lectures. We had numerous fun events at /Pub, thanks to MEST. We travelled around Europe and visited over eight countries. I missed quite a few family events back home and many of my friends’ weddings. I had my first experience with snow, sub-zero temperatures and frozen canals. I re-discovered my love for biking and explored many places around Delft (and Amsterdam). I experimented with new cuisines and learned to cook from scratch. There were a few missed deadlines, failed opportunities and resits. But (so far) it has all gone pretty well.

Kinderdijk is a UNESCO world-heritage site known for its 18th-century windmills P.C. Amitabh Yadav

Most importantly however I learned a lot more than I had imagined. I learned about people, cultures, life lessons, integrated circuit design, medical technology, time management and research. I thoroughly enjoyed working in the Bioelectronics research group and found new possibilities I didn’t know existed. Research in itself is boring and if you are limited to a very narrow search space you cannot really do much innovation and won’t find a lot of space to think freely and creatively. But I got the freedom and the encouragement to look for better solutions and challenge the status quo. That is what impressed me the most and that is what I would remember from my time at TU Delft.

Spring colours the landscape quite well

I don’t know what lies next and where my quest will lead. I am just a little bit saddened about the prospect of leaving this quaint little town. At the same time I am looking forward to my next adventure!

Oh, I almost forgot that I still have a thesis project to complete and defend. Let me get back to work. Meanwhile, enjoy some pictures from Kinderdijk where we went on Easter sunday.

Kinderdijk is also a popular tourist spot

Chai Pe Charcha

Don’t worry if you didn’t understand the title of this post. It is a popular Hindi expression which translates to – “A chat over tea”. This expression was made popular recently by our Prime Minister Modiji (the ‘ji’ is added in Hindi to mark respect, much like ‘Mr.’ in English or ‘San’ in Japanese). It is a new strategy in which matters of state are discussed over a cup of tea- with cabinet members, leaders in opposition or heads of other nations. It is in continuation of his background as a ‘chaiwalla’ or a tea seller and his fondness of elaborately naming every single thing. It didn’t just start with him though.

Modi and Obama’s chai pe charcha (courtesy: Indian Express)

It is one of our favourite pastimes throughout India (I might be generalising a bit here). Every evening (for some, mornings as well) people get together to have some tea and chat. The people drinking tea together could be family members, college friends, colleagues or even strangers who find a common topic of interest. It is such a common activity that I was forced to switch from coffee to tea! The craze about chai is best illustrated by the numerous memes and jokes that are doing the rounds in social media.

A meme on ‘chai’ and a popular bollywood movie

So, you would understand when I say that I miss the chai-time here. While TU Delft’s campus is well-equipped with coffee machines on almost every floor of every building, the chai is still missed. It’s just not me though. Many of my ‘desi’ (Indian) friends share the same feelings. So we take some time off from our regular schedules to have some ‘chai pe charcha’ together. As everyone is busy these days, thanks to their thesis projects, more often than not we have to stick to coffee. But whenever we can find time we make some chai and catch up. We are missing many festivals from back home that we used to celebrate with our friends and family. So it is in ‘chai’ (and some other stuff) that we try to keep the desi-ness alive. The ISA (Indian Students Association) do organise many festivals in campus and these events bring the Indian community together to celebrate, but the traditional celebration is still missed.

Fortunately for us, Delft has many stores which sell the tea powder which is used in chai. Interestingly though the ‘tea’ referred to in general is different from ‘chai’. While tea is made by boiling tea leaves in water, strained and then mixed with milk and sugar, chai is made by boiling the tea leaves in milk directly. If you are interested in trying some ‘chai’ or if you are a desi but a complete novice in the kitchen then you can refer to the video below. Cheers!

Stresses of Graduate Life

Graduate life is stressful, often illustrated beautifully in comic strips, memes and (very few) movies. While college life (undergrad) is referred to as the best times of one’s life, graduate studies change all that. A graduate student is expected to get serious about the studies and contribute meaningfully to the field. More often than not it is accompanied by tougher exams, assignments and projects.

It becomes quite difficult just to pass the courses, as I felt last year. But this price comes with a greater reward. After completing the courses I could understand and appreciate the design of the electronic systems at various levels – from the semiconductor physics at the sub-atomic level to the system integration and packaging at the product level. Knowledge of all these levels is essential to being an engineer and a researcher in this field.

Most of the topics covered in the courses of this MSc program deal with the actual design, implementation and fabrication of the circuits and systems which were introduced in the bachelors. Hence, we need to learn quite a lot in a short time so that we can implement some concept in the thesis project. There is just no way around it, except to take your own time to get it right.

Analog Design is also an art! (Image source: https://theamphour.com/the-amp-hour-48-posthumous-pease-porridge/)

As for myself – it was difficult for me at first but eventually I understood the amount of effort I needed to put in for the courses. At the end of the year I had earned the requisite number of credits. But there are some things one does not quite understand unless they implement the whole design by themselves. My thesis project is based on Analog to Digital Converters (ADCs) which are the essential link between sensors and digital signal processing systems. The sensors convert the physical quantity to an electrical quantity which is then converted by the ADC into a digital value. I had studied the design principles of ADCs in the course Nyquist Rate ADCs. I believed I had understood everything required to design an ADC by myself. However while doing my thesis project I encountered several issues for which I had to go back and explore how other researchers had solved that exact problem. Thanks to the course that I had taken I knew exactly what to look for and where.

Levels of Packaging of electronics (Image Source: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Packaging-Levels-used-in-Electronics-after-4_fig5_320372534)

I often read on Delta (TU Delft’s newspaper) that many students (and especially Masters’ students) are under heavy stress due to academic pressure. While it is true that the stress is real and I myself have experienced the same, I don’t think attributing it all to the academics is fair. I can’t say for all the MSc programs but Microelectronics is a tough nut to crack. Everyone entering the program should be fully aware about that and be ready to prove their mettle. If someone feels that it is getting too difficult then they should seriously re-evaluate their choices and future planning. The end goal of our studies is to contribute to the pool of human knowledge and become able to continue doing so for the rest of our professional career. It would obviously take considerable effort to get there!

Study in groups helps learn better (Image source: becuo.com)

Do not think you are all alone in this situation though. This happens with many people and they might be feeling just as miserable as you. The best way to cope with the stress is to talk about it with friends, classmates and academic counsellors. They can help you deal with your problems and guide your study planning as well. You can also form study groups along with your friends and help each other out. It certainly helped me.

Good Luck!

A Greek Getaway

Winter arrived in Delft and with it came the dreaded showers. When this happens it may be days before you can see some sunlight again. I was well into the first phase of my thesis project but the weather wasn’t exactly motivating enough to get me out of the bed. It was high time to take a break and catch some sunlight. So I and a couple of friends decided to head South, much like migratory birds. Unlike the migratory birds our journey wasn’t so arduous.

It’s all Greek to me!

We were lucky to find some cheap tickets from Eindhoven. In fact, it cost us more to get to Delft from Eindhoven than the flight back to Eindhoven! A 3-hour flight took us to Athens, a beautiful city that grew around the legacy of the Greek civilization. As soon as we reached the city we got a familiar feeling as if we had landed in Delhi. The busy streets, traffic and street-side shops looked all the same as one would encounter in Delhi. But we got a real shock when we saw only symbols like Sigma, Lambda, Gamma, Theta etc. on literally everything. Since our school days we had learned these to use as constants in Physics and mathematics, but this was the language which Greek people used every day! It felt like we had to solve an equation and find a solution everytime we wanted to read something on information screens and sign posts. We soon got the hang of it though, being smart engineers and all B)

The Acropolis behind us

The public transport is pretty cheap in Athens if you take the 5-day pass. We roamed around the city the whole day while taking in the sights. The National Archaeological museum, the Acropolis and its awesome museum transported us back through the ages to the times when Greeks were one of the mighty civilizations. We sampled some street food like souvlaki, crepes and salads all of which I would highly recommend. The flea market near the Acropolis is a great place to buy souvenirs and books on the cheap (if you know your Greek). One great thing about Athens is that the whole place is awake and moving well into the night. We didn’t feel like returning back to our Airbnb place until 2 am!

Christmas decorations near Syntagma Square

Our next stop was the picturesque island of Santorini which is a 45-minute flight away from Athens. The island has a black-sand beach (Kamari) on the south side where we did a lot of experimental photography. On the north side the town of Thira is the central place from where all the public transport originates. It has a small port way down (about 700 steps) from where you can also take boats to the other smaller islands nearby. You can also ride on a mule down to the port and back. There is another town called Oia which is simply mesmerising, with its white and blue buildings in a sort of a maze around the cliff. Since it was the off-season there were very few people all around the tiny island. We heard that it becomes quite a party hub in the summers. Nevertheless we took in all the sunlight we could before returning back to Holland.

Port at Thira

Oia, Santorini Island

Long Exposure Shot, Kamari Beach (P.C.- Amitabh Yadav)

It was quite a memorable trip and well worth every penny we spent. We did miss some spots in Athens which I hope to check out on another trip to the Greek capital. As for now, I need to return back to the world of signals and circuits.

Happy Holidays!

The Year Ahead

I have started working on my thesis project now in the Bioelectronics group. My aim is to develop a multi-channel level crossing ADC that will be used to record bio-signals. As part of the thesis project I am doing a literature review in which I read up on different research papers about the topic I am working on. This will give me an idea about the work that has already been done and what I can do further in this domain.

where my chip would be used. Courtesy – medgadget.com

I have planned the milestones and a rough timeline for my project. This helps me to keep track of my progress and to ensure I am on track to finish my work on time. I have meetings with my thesis supervisor periodically to review my work and to get tips on how to proceed further. I have daily supervisors as well who help me in finding solutions to the problems I face. So far my work has been going well.

my model in action

I have developed a simple behavioral model of the ADC which I will use for developing my whole system. After getting the desired results with the behavioral model I will start designing the circuit of my whole system. The circuit design will have added complexity because of the realistic constraints that would not have been considered in the behavioral model. So I would need to consider these problems and find ways to solve them. Then I would need to create a layout of the whole circuit i.e. the way it would be actually fabricated on the Silicon wafer. After all these steps I would be able to do simulations and find the way my chip will work in the real world. I would then collect the results and derive conclusions. When all this is done I can complete my thesis and submit for the green signal from my supervisor. After the final approval I can defend my thesis and get my degree.

my final layout will look something like this. Courtesy – ee.columbia.edu

It is still a long way to go and I have a lot of work to do. It’s not all work in the group though. We have monthly meetings in which people showcase their work while having lunch. We also have monthly drinks where we can have an informal and light moment with our colleagues at /Pub. We have the BELCA festival coming up and many more events are planned in the coming year. It’s fun working in the Bioelectronics group!

Back to the Beginning

After a year I am back where I began. A new academic year starts and a fresh batch start their journey at TU Delft. As newcomers wander frantically trying to reach their lecture halls in time, I wander through familiar routes reminiscing last year’s excitement. I had a great time during the Introduction Program last year and I am sure people had good fun this year too.

It’s a small world! (not related to the post)

Now I am almost done with my courses, except for a few in which I want to try my luck once more. This flexibility is good because you get multiple chances to improve your grades, but bad because you are always optimistic to do better the next time. To each their own anyway. In this system I learned the importance and power of prioritising and planning everything.

I have finally homed in on a topic for my thesis project with the Bioelectronics group. I am working on a low-power, multi-channel, level crossing Analog to Digital Converter (ADC) which can be used with bio-sensors. I have started with the literature review to find out what research groups have done on this particular topic. Then I will try to develop my own design based on the insights gained from the literature review and all that I have learned last year.

What I am doing right now on IEEE Xplore

I do feel that I am back where I began last year (and hence the title) as the process of reviewing research papers and developing on my own is pretty new for me. Here we are expected to become independent researchers and contribute our own original ideas to the academic community. I am not going through it completely alone though. I have supervisors with whom I can consult and get help whenever I need. It is exciting and a bit scary at the same time. I hope I can survive this year as well!


Summering in India

After four quarters of hard work we are in the summer break, and I am finally done with my courses. That is, I now have sufficient credits to start my thesis. As I look back, I must say it was quite hard and often it was almost impossible. But I tried my best and never let it discourage me. I now have a somewhat better sense of the technology that goes into the devices that we make. I hope to learn even more while working on my thesis later this year.

A fabricated wafer – what I am supposed to design

But before getting into the nitty gritty of the thesis I needed a break. So I came back home to Bhubaneswar in the state of Odisha, also known as the temple city. I was just in time for Rath Yatra, the annual festival in which Lord Jagannath (a Hindu deity) and his siblings visit their aunt’s house in a wooden chariot. Millions of people attend the festival in Puri each year. Since it is the monsoon season in India, it rains quite hard and often unlike the windy showers in Holland. It is also quite humid and also warm, which is typical of the coastal regions.

Sand sculpture by Sudarshan Pattnaik to celebrate Rath Yatra

I also travelled to Pune in Maharashtra where I trekked to Lohegarh fort with my friends. The best time to visit Pune and its surrounding hills is in the monsoon. I was reminded of my numerous bike trips with my friends.

Waterfall on the way to Lohgarh Fort

But the most important reason I came back to India was the food. I found a new appreciation for the food back home that I had taken for granted. The cuisine in India is not just one. Every region has its own style and variation. It is difficult to get the same variety anywhere else. So I ate as much as I could, and as many dishes I could find. I would have to wait another year at least to taste everything again.

A full Indian lunch

I had brought stroopwaffels and Belgian chocolates which my folks really liked. I am trying to take as much sweets and snacks to Delft as possible. As I prepare to return back to my studies I realise a greater journey lies ahead. Alvida!

Researching for Research!

After the nightmare that was 3rd quarter (that I survived somehow), I have some time finally to unwind and relax. This doesn’t mean that nothing is happening though. Summer is here and the sunny weather reminds me of home!

A sunny day at the beach @Hague

Now that we are in the final quarter of the first year, a big question mark lights up in everyone’s heads. The question preceding it is going to define what we do in the coming year. In the second year of our MSc program we are supposed to work on an MSc thesis project. Now is the time to look for suitable MSc projects according to our interests and the courses we have completed in the first year.

There are several ways to land an MSc thesis project. The best way is to approach professors in the department and discuss with them about it. After a few discussions about courses taken, grades obtained, topics of interests in research and other parameters a project topic might be agreed upon. The project is supervised by a PhD candidate on a daily basis. Hence, they can also help in defining the project. Moreover, many professors put a list and description of possible projects on their page or on the research group webpage. This is the webpage for the Electronic Instrumentation group headed by Prof. Kofi Makinwa – https://ei.tudelft.nl/

EI group website

I am interested in doing a thesis project on a research topic in bioelectronics. Hence, I am currently in discussion with professors and PhD candidates in the bioelectronics group of the Microelectronics department. I have been asked to read some research papers and identify research questions which I can investigate during my MSc project. I do have help from people in the department to help me get there. This process takes some time and hence it is advisable to start a bit early. In some cases people can also get company-sponsored projects which come with a monthly stipend. Applying to or finding about such projects can be done through the same way as for a regular project. In the end, some research needs to be done to decide what to do research on. 🙂

In terms of structure we can have a mini-project for 15 ECs and MSc thesis project for 45 ECs. Hence, both the projects can be defined after discussion with the supervisor. An internship or extra courses can also be undertaken to earn 15 ECs before embarking on the thesis project. So, there are a lot of possibilities to choose from, and a lot to plan ahead!