Posted on Monday, January 21, 2019
Neuromorphic Engineering, a discipline of Electrical Engineering, has been around for 30 years, but it is only in the last five years that interest in the field has increased. “This is partly due to the rise of intelligent devices,” says Barney Glover, vice-chancellor and president, Western Sydney University (WSU). He adds, “The field takes its inspiration from how well biological neural systems perform in the world in allowing animals to sense their environment, make decisions, and react accordingly. Thus, Neuromorphic engineers, build electronic sensors and processing inspired by Biology to provide better solutions to developing smart devices. It has been the domain of a small group of researchers globally since its inception in the late 1980s, but interest in the field, both by industry and in academia, has exploded in the past decade.”
Glover was in India recently for WSU’s collaboration with the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, to facilitate student and faculty exchanges in the field (including PhD exchange programme). “With the collaboration coming into force, we will award a scholarship to one postgraduate research student from IISc, and will host up to 6 postgraduate students for research internships,” Glover says. WSU is also developing a Masters programme in Neuromorphic Engineering, but this is a work in progress.
“We can expect a massive demand for neuromorphic engineers over at least the next two decades. India’s academic system is training some of the best electrical engineers in the world, and the IISC-WSU exchange programme will enable them to do research with the leading professors. Expertise is needed not only in the academic and research space but also within industry which is already investing heavily in research and development. For the students studying under the IISc/WSU alliance, the opportunities to lead the way as researchers or within industry are open.” Typical electrical engineering skills in microelectronics, computer programming, signal processing, and machine learning are relevant to the field. “Students will also be expected to learn a fair bit of neuroscience to better understand the neural system,” says Glover while talking to Education Times.
Currently, there is no course taught at either IISc or WSU in the field, but both institutions host postgraduate research students obtaining a MPhil or PhD degree. At IISc, both Masters and PhD students have 2-3 semesters of coursework before starting their research project. Chetan Singh Thakur, who heads the Neuronics laboratory at IISc and currently the associate professor in the department of Electronics Systems Engineering, completed his PhD in Neuromorphic Engineering at WSU in 2015. “We have a thematic cluster at IISc on brain computation and data science where faculty from various disciplines work together. Some of them are working in Neuromorphic Engineering and have developed low power intelligent system and chip design using Neuromorphic principles such as distributed systems and in-memory computing,” says Thakur.
The key skill sets for pursing the field include a Bachelor’s in Electrical Engineering with a Microelectronics specialisation. Other options are a Computer Science or Physics degree. Students will need to have good skills in computer programming, signal processing, Mathematics, and preferably Electronics.
Careerwise, Neuromorphic Engineering jobs are much sought-after by large electronics companies for their R&D departments, where they will be developing novel technology.
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