Omer Mahgoub from Square Kilometer Array (SKA) Africa and PCB Design for Astronomy
Judy Warner: Omer, will you please share what the SKA is, what countries are involved, and what purpose it serves?
Omer Mahgoub: The SKA (Square Kilometre Array) is an international effort to build the world's largest radio telescope, with a total collecting area of 1 square kilometer and located on two continents (Africa and Australia).
Organizations from 10 countries are members of the SKA: Australia, Canada, China, India, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
The SKA will allow us to observe the universe in unprecedented detail and help us understand how stars and galaxies have formed, how they evolve over time, and other of astronomy's unanswered questions relating to dark energy and dark matter.
Warner: Sounds like a monumental undertaking! What is the name of the company you work for and their overall role in making the SKA a reality?
Mahgoub: I work for SKA Africa which is directly responsible for the construction of the SKA in South Africa.
Warner: Exciting work, no doubt. So, what is your role as PCB designer, and what are your greatest challenges?
Mahgoub: I design some of the boards used in processing the data received from the telescope antennas. Because the SKA is pushing the limits of engineering and scientific endeavor, building it requires the development of cutting-edge technology and innovation. This makes the boards challenging in terms of signal integrity with such high-speed designs and due to the sensitivity of the instrument, in reducing board-level EMI.
Warner: What led you to become a board designer, and end up where you are today?
Mahgoub: After obtaining my electronic engineering degree, my first job was in hardware design, although it was mostly higher level design and schematic capture since we had a dedicated PCB designer. Once Altium Designer was introduced to our organization, the rest of the electronic engineers started to also layout and route their own designs due to the simplicity of using it, thereby increasing productivity.
Warner: Well that is great feedback and we’re delighted to hear the tool was easy to adopt. What advice would you share with fellow EE’s making a similar leap into designing, or new young designers just starting out?
Mahgoub: Before starting your PCB design, ensure that you know your PCB manufacturer's capabilities so that you won't have to alter your design later.
It's also very important to use ground planes for a variety of reasons: to act as low-impedance return paths for high-frequency currents, to minimize EMI due to the plane's shielding action, as well as to help dissipate heat.
Don't rush to begin routing and spend more time with component placement. Allow sufficient space for the components but also minimize trace length for signal integrity and easier routing. Always have someone else check your created component footprints.
Warner: As one with many years in the PCB manufacturing industry, I couldn’t agree more about collaborating closely with your manufacturers. Much time, cost and frustration can be saved this way! Also, some of the best designers I’ve ever met have echoed your advice of working closely with colleagues for best results. Omer, thank you very much for sharing about the work you’re doing relative to the SKA and your experience as a PCB designer in this exciting work!
Mahgoub: My pleasure, Judy. Thank you for allowing me to share it.