The Girls in Engineering Club sat down with Senior Lecturer Dr Shaghik Atakaramians, from the School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications at UNSW Sydney, to find out more about telecommunications engineering and her research into sub millimetre electromagnetic waves called Terahertz waves. Her work will help in the development of high speed connections for 6G communication systems, and will transform other industries that require high speed connections including automotive, space, datacentres, and image processing. 

Can you tell us how you came to study telecommunications? 

I was inspired by my father and grandfather who were both engineers, one was a structural engineer and the other mechanical. They were always building things and making a difference with their work and that was something that I wanted to do – to make a difference, and I realised that I could do this through engineering.  

I was excited by telecommunications because I had seen satellite dishes on buildings and wanted to know how they worked, and how they communicated with the satellites in space. I started my studies in electrical engineering in my home country of Iran, and I was then able to specialise in telecommunications toward the third and fourth years of my degree.

What is Telecommunications Engineering?

Telecommunications Engineers are people who design, test and build various technologies that enable communications. These include radio, microwave and satellite communications or networks for phones and the Internet.  A common example of telecommunications engineering in action is the e-tag attached to the front windscreen of cars, that beeps when you drive on a road with tolls to signal the toll being collected. 

What kinds of jobs can you do in the field of telecommunications?

There is academia which I went into, and that involves teaching and researching at a university. This is an exciting role because it keeps you at the forefront of technology. I established the Photonics Terahertz Research Group in School of Electrical Engineering and Telecomunication at UNSW. The video below describes in more detail what we do. 

You can also work for a major telecommunications company in a R&D (Research and Development) role or testing and troubleshooting devices and antennas in the field. There are also companies that have private communications networks separate from the regular Internet: UNSW has one for example, as well as data centres that have critical infrastructure like big stations. The job opportunities in telecommunications are vast and the companies are too, with many of our graduates going to Microsoft and Google!

Much of your research involves Terahertz electromagnetic waves. What are they?

Terahertz electromagnetic waves are waves on the electromagnetic spectrum, waves that travel at the speed of light like visible light, X-rays and radio waves. Terahertz waves sit on the spectrum at a frequency higher than that of microwaves but lower than the optical part of the spectrum. They are also called sub millimetre waves because their wavelength is less than one millimetre in length. 

Why are they important, and how does your research contribute to the next generation of wireless communication?

Until now, little research has been done on this part of the spectrum, and its applications are exciting, spanning from sensing, imaging to communications. This is because previously we had been unable to generate these waves. 5G waves transfer data through copper wires, however this limits the frequency that can be achieved and they don’t perform anymore for 6G. A project I am working on with Ericsson in Sweden is looking to replace the copper wires with polymer wires and specific design that can cater for high-speed communications to enable 6G. It will allow us to reach communication speeds never researched before. 


What are the applications of your research?

Some of the applications of my research include:

  • Providing high speed connectivity for 6G networks. Large telecommunications companies are doing a lot of research and development into these technologies, including Ericsson which I collaborate with. Some examples that require high-speed connectivity are chip-to-chip connection and base station to radio unit connection in communication towers. 

Other applications that can be transformed by high speed connectivity are:

  • Health services where high-speed communications can allow for better access to medical resources by enabling virtual doctor visits, telesurgery, hospital-to-home services as well as real-time monitoring of patients (intelligent beds) and analysis of MRI and CT scans with huge file sizes. This will provide access to quality healthcare services for people around the world even in remote locations. Imagine a room full of sensors connected to a high-speed network, where you can remotely monitor the main vital signs of patients. 

As well as being a leading researcher in your field, you are also a Senior Lecturer at the School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications at UNSW Sydney. What are some of the subjects you teach?

When I started working at UNSW Sydney, I was given the opportunity to develop a special course in Antennas and Propagation for Masters students, an area of telecommunications that I am passionate about that wasn’t offered in the School of EET for two decades, so I jumped on the opportunity to develop this! 

Additionally, this year, I will be teaching a first-year engineering subject, Electrical Circuits, which teaches the fundamentals of electric circuits at Western Sydney University as part of a new joint UNSW and WSU program. This is a fundamental course for telecommunications students and a common first-year subject in electrical engineering and other engineering programs such as mechanical engineering. 

The telecommunications industry is on the lookout for more engineers, what advice would you give to high school girls considering studying electrical engineering?

Be Brave. Don’t think that electrical engineering is a man's job, that is a misconception. If you are good at maths and physics and have a creative mind, look into electrical engineering. I believe that electrical engineering is at the heart of engineering. For fun, I like to ask my colleagues in different engineering disciplines if they can live without electricity, and when they answer “no”, that’s when I say, well that’s why we have electrical engineers. I think it’s a good way to reinforce just how vital electrical engineering is.

I’d also like to say follow your dreams. There is no right or wrong. Take the opportunities that come your way as they will help you to find your passion. It’s never too late to change your mind and do different things so don’t be afraid of trying.


For more information about studying Telecommunications Engineering at UNSW Sydney visit the School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications.