Chirag Sop

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The vision I have set for myself is to be among the leaders at the forefront of our technological
progress, by imagining, architecting and building amazing engineering systems. PhD is my
preparation towards accomplishing this. My research interests are Bio-inspired Computing and
Wireless Communication. The opportunity to creatively combine theory, experiments and practical
implementation attracts me to these areas.
In the summer of my sophomore year at IIT Bombay, Prof. Bipin Rajendran introduced me to
neuromorphic computing. Being active in robotics on campus, the sharp contrast between how we
programmed the robots for tasks like navigation and how biological systems accomplished the same
caught my interest. Drawing cue from a line-follower bot, a hobby project of mine, we built a bot
that implements real-time autonomous navigation inspired by a nematode C.elegans. There was no
single ‘program’ running on the bot. Rather, the emergent behaviour was solely due the interactions
among multiple tiny independent microcontroller neurons, much like as in a real organism. In
summer of my third year, we demonstrated it at ISCAS 2015 [first author]. [ add link ]
The entire experience left a lasting impression on me. I had a pre-placement job offer from the
investment bank I was then interning with. Convinced of my interest in research, I rejected the offer
and converted to five-year bachelors+masters program at IITB, giving me additional time to explore
before entering graduate school. In my fourth year, I took up wide set of courses ranging from
information theory, optimisation to VLSI design and biosensors. With limited opportunity for
research on bio-insipred computing at IITB, I focussed on my interest in telecommunications. I
decided to train myself in theoretical as well as practical aspects of the field.
In 2016, at the end of my fourth year, India completed the IRNSS1 satellite constellation. Amazed
by its working principles, I approached Prof. Madhav Desai, who was planning to design a
specialised co-processor for IRNSS reception on top of the general-purpose processor designed by
his team. I initiated this effort, starting from scratch with software radio experiments. I built the
prototype of receiver, theoretically analysed the design parameters, their interdependence and
prepared guidelines for their choices. This work is currently being used to develop the co-processor.
Further, sensing that lack of recording hardware in IRNSS bands was hindering research across
India, I formed a team of three undergraduates and built the analog front-end for IRNSS with Prof.
Shalabh Gupta. It was used by SAMEER2 tasked with building the front-end. This entire work
became my Masters Thesis and was awarded the undergraduate research award. Continued work on
wireless made me proficient at visualising the abstract concepts in real-world scenarios and taught
me the discipline required to build working hardware systems.
In addition to my Masters Project, which was largely hands-on engineering, I sought challenging
theoretical problems with Prof. Sibiraj Pillai. The problem of computing capacity of decentralised
multiple access channels in MIMO systems attracted our attention. Exactly computing throughput
when each transmitter had only its own fading matrix was not analytically tractable. Leveraging
intuitions about power control schemes from a previous project with Prof. Pillai, I tried to
understand the fundamental trade-offs. It took us way longer than I thought, but I persevered on the
problem even after I graduated. And it did pay off when we recently arrived at close bounds to
characterise these systems. We are now preparing to submit the work for publication. In the process
I learnt to approach a problem by using real-world intuitions to guess a solution and then use rigour
to actually try and prove it. It taught me the importance of patience in research. I understood that
research is often a net of many small insights rather than a few sudden eurekas.
1 Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System: 7 satellite positioning system like the GPS but only over Indian Subcontinent
2 Society for Applied Microwave Electronics Engineering & Research: R&D laboratory established by Govt. of India
All the while, I sustained my interest in bio-inspired computing by attending summer schools
geared towards PhD’s and postdocs in computational neuroscience. I learnt the basics of
neuroscience and experimental methods. Interacting with researchers from diverse backgrounds and
learning about their work excited me and reinforced my decision to eventually pursue a PhD.
After graduating in 2017, I wanted to work close to silicon. I joined TSMC3, Taiwan. There I learnt
the basics of Physical Design, but the job was not contributing to my eventual goal of research.
Hence, 5 months later I joined Texas Instruments (TI) as analog design engineer. In past 9 months,
under Vishveshraya Pentakota, a TI fellow, I developed the core architecture and designed key
blocks of an experimental high-speed, low power ADC, very different from the hitherto used
pipeline ADCs. TI is applying for two patents based on this work. Currently in the layout phase, by
the time I join PhD, I would have seen the entire process from design to silicon.
Equipped with this broad background in theory, hardware design, basic biology and hands-on
experiences, I now aspire to delve deep in my PhD. Problems in wireless are very practical yet
amenable to general, lucid mathematical analysis. Similar process is on-going at the intersection of
engineering and life-sciences, to develop new theoretical frameworks from available large-scale
experimental data and biological knowledge. I want to participate in this development which could
potentially contribute to new technologies ranging from algorithms to systems to devices.
On one hand I am interested in using learnings from established domains like telecommunication to
answer fundamental questions like how do we (animals) sense, encode and transmit information in
real-time? How do we store, modify, retrieve data efficiently? How do we compute? On the other, I
want to explore what can we learn from biological systems to improve our current computing and
communication paradigms and platforms. [add link]
At Stanford, works of Prof. Kwabena Boahen’s lab interest me for they deal with the entire
spectrum of questions in this field. Prof. Surya Ganguli’s work excites me as it aligns very well with
my stated research objectives. Prof. Andrea Goldsmith’s lab would offer me the unique opportunity
to work at the intersection of wireless and bio-inspired communication. I also have followed and
liked the works of Prof. Sachin Katti’s lab on localisation and single-channel full duplex. [add link]
Prof. Taschy Weissman recently posted results of an experiment titled ‘humans are the best
compressors’ on his site.Though preliminary at this stage, I am excited about possibilities of using
the know-how of human semantic understanding and memory to design better algorithms. [add link]
After my PhD, I aspire to work in the industry on converting deep technological ideas to impactful
products and processes, which would eventually percolate and enable the general masses to reap
benefits of my research. I greatly admire the likes of Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore, Irwin
Jacobs and Viterbi for having very successfully done this.
At Stanford I am enthused by the close collaboration between the engineering and med school. The
interdisciplinary environment and academic excellence combined with the entrepreneurial spirit of
Stanford makes it the best suited graduate school for me. I thank the admission committee for their
time and consideration.
3 Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company
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