The Problem

The Electrical Engineering Department at Yale University is charged with both research and teaching. They needed a straightforward, robust, and extremely flexible computer-to-electronic device interconnect for use in both research and the classroom.

Professors at Yale University, led by Eugenio Culurciello, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering, researched a range of solutions for device-to-PC interconnect. They focused on the key criteria of:

  • Performance of the board – in terms of how fast researchers and students can become effective using the board as a tool for research and education;
  • USB communication performance – how fast data is transferred between the PC and FPGA components;
  • Ease of use.

The Solution

Yale Engineering professors and students researched the available solutions on the market and even considered building a device in-house.

“We could easily have built our own device… why not?” said, Culurciello. “But when I found the Opal Kelly module, it was clear there was no point in building a solution internally. Adding together the time and expense of buying all the components and the time we would need to spend to build it ourselves, it was clear we would not be saving any money.”

Research – The Electrical Engineering Department at Yale is focused primarily on biological research. They use Opal Kelly FPGA USB 2.0 modules and FrontPanel software to interface, control, and collect data from a variety of devices. For example, Opal Kelly modules are used for interfacing biosensors with computers and recording optical neural readings.

Classroom – Opal Kelly modules are used for teaching in undergraduate classes at Yale. They are used in a course on Very-large-scale Hardware Description Language (VHDL) that teaches programming for FPGA. In other digital courses, including “Introduction to Computer Engineering” and “Digital Systems,” students learn to program the module to operate as a digital circuit. Students conduct experiments to control household devices, such as microwave ovens, TVs, and washing machines, using the XEM3001 module.

The Results

“The Opal Kelly FPGA module is a great programmable piece of hardware that allows us to ‘talk’ with many other pieces of hardware,” Culurciello said. “Opal Kelly modules provide an excellent low-level interface. The combination of USB 2.0 with FPGA allows us to quickly collect the data we need, change parameters, and fine-tune our research.”

The Opal Kelly XEM3001 was used in the Yale University e-Lab in the hardware test-bed for the first fully-integrated implementation of a patch-clamp measurement system. The following research paper documents the project: An Integrated Patch-Clamp Potentiostat with Electrode Compensation, P. Weerakoon, K. Klemic, F.J. Sigworth, E. Culurciello, IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Circuits and Systems TBCAS, 2008, invited paper.

A Low-Power Silicon-on-Sapphire Tunable Ultra-Wideband Transmitter W. Tang, A.G. Andreou, E. Culurciello, IEEE International Symposium on Circuits and Systems, 2008. ISCAS 2008, 18-21 May 2008, Seattle USA., pp. 1974 – 1977.

“Voltage Sensitive Dye Imaging System for Awake and Freely Moving Animals,” J.H. Park, E. Culurciello, D. Kim, J. V. Verhagen, S.H. Gautam, V. Pieribone, IEEE Biomedical Circuits and Systems Conference, November 2008.

“An Integrated Patch-Clamp Amplifier for High-Throughput Planar Patch-Clamp Systems,” P. Weerakoon, Kate Klemic, F.J. Sigworth, E. Culurciello, IEEE International Symposium on Circuits and Systems, 2008. ISCAS 2008, 18-21 May 2008, Seattle USA., pp. 1808 – 1811.

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