Let's get small: Redefining RF and education

In the late ’80s, I had a portable cassette player that was a marvel of Japanese miniaturization. Only 20% bigger than a tape, it had a four-band graphic equalizer in the lid and could even do auto-reverse, letting me listen to the same two albums—over and over—during trans-Pacific flights.

Today, my digital music player contains 101 albums and has room for 263 more—and it’s smaller than a Hot Wheels car. Transformations in size, cost, capability, and performance are also happening with test equipment, even in the realm of network and spectrum analysis. Not only is this a boon for serious RF and microwave measurements in the field, it’s also opening new doors in teaching at the university level.

Such is the case with Agilent’s FieldFox analyzers, which can be equipped for cable and antenna test, spectrum analysis, vector network analysis, or all three—all in an 11.5- by 7.4- by 2.8-inch package that weighs just 6.6 lbs (3.0 kg). Compared to traditional analyzers, FieldFox conserves bench space and is easy to share across multiple labs. It also enables lecturers to perform demonstrations without lugging around bulky bench-top units.

In March 2013, Agilent and the University of Washington’s Department of Electrical Engineering unveiled a new RF and microwave teaching lab designed around FieldFox. The goal: provide a superior learning experience that creates stronger links between theory and practice.

The lab includes eight FieldFox combination analyzers (N9914A), four ENA vector network analyzers, and four MXG signal generators. To help students go deeper into spectrum and modulation analysis, Agilent also provided 30 seats of 89600 VSA software. In addition, the lab has 50 seats of Agilent EEsof EDA software for simulation and modeling.

According to Professor Vikram Janhyala, the equipment and software will benefit students and faculty alike. For example, with a 6.5-GHz FieldFox analyzer, addressable topics include transmission lines, impedance matching, communication links, microwave circuits, RF interference, and EMC emissions and shielding.

Will top-notch test equipment get as small as today’s music players? It’s hard to imagine, but look how far we’ve come from the Walkman to the Diskman to the iPod.

For more information, please visit www.agilent.com/find/eduffa.

More in Instrumentation