Meet our Alumni: Alan Jones

3 Mar 2015 - 14:30

Alan Jones, one of the recent graduates of our Radar Masters programme, kindly agreed to be interviewed for the website:

Tell us a bit about yourself:

I grew up in Cape Town, and completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Cape Town.

From 2011 to 2014, I attended various modules of the MEng (Radar and Electronic Defence) at UCT, graduating in 2014.

My supervisor was Prof Mike Inggs, and the topic of my thesis was “Implementation of a Pulsed Radar System on Open Source Software and Hardware” (the abstract of the MEng dissertation is available here, and a PDF of the document can be downloaded here).

I am currently working for Eskom at Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, as a System Engineer.

Were you involved in any interesting research during your studies?

My research topic for my Masters was based around the re-purposing of the commercially available Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) board for use in low-cost radar application. The board was the Universal Software Radio Peripheral 2 (USRP2), which was originally designed for use in radio application.

Modern radar systems use a large amount of FPGA-based processing, and these boards are normally custom-made for a given radar system. The main problem with these types of boards is the cost, particularly when trying to build a low-cost radar system. For this reason, if a low- cost commercially available board can be found that will allow the operation of a radar system, it would be a great help in the development of a low-cost radar system.

What I found with the USRP2 board was that the hardware should be able to handle the low level data processing requirements for a radar system. However, the default software heavily limits its functionality for large system rewrites and would need a complete rewrite of the whole system.

The USRP2 with its two daughter boards attached, developed and produced by Ettus Research

The USRP2 with its two daughter boards attached, developed and produced by Ettus Research

What benefit did you derive from the Radar Masters programme?

For me, this one of the more difficult question to answer because I do not work in the radar field at all, and currently have no prospects for a future in the field. However, that does not mean that I did not receive any benefits from the program. First off, I now have a Masters degree in engineering, which is very nice to have. I also learned much about myself and what I can do, by completing this programme.

What did you find the most enjoyable?

I found the lectures the most enjoyable part of the programme. It is a very rare opportunity to be able to learn from international experts in their fields. The topics presented were very interesting and covered a large range of subject matters in the radar field and related fields.

What did you find the most challenging about the course?

I found that most challenging part of the course was the lectures. A full week of lectures focusing so heavily on a single subject matter is more of a challenge than a full week, during which a number of different topics are covered.

What is your current area of interest or research?

My current work as a system engineer at a nuclear power station does not lend itself to research work. As part of my current work, I am responsible for the telecommunication system at Koeberg.

What are your goals for the future?

Being part of the nuclear new build program, when it begins to run in South Africa.

What advice do you have for your fellow students?

Students must remember that the week of lectures for a course is some of the most important if not the most important time on the course. If you can take in most of what the lecturers are trying to teach you, then all the better. Also remember that, even when the course is over, you can always email the lecturers with questions and problems.

Thank you very much for participating in the our Meet our Alumni interview series, Alan. We wish you much success in your future career.