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Past Winner
2006 NSERC Doctoral Prize

Behzad Akbarpour

Computer Science

Cambridge University

Behzad Akbarpour
Behzad Akbarpour

Research into hardware verification methods is helping engineers get their designs right the first time.

Hardware and software systems are widely used in applications where failure is unacceptable. In case of an error, cars, airplanes, electronic commerce, telephone switching networks, and computerized medical instruments, to name just a few, can be adversely affected.  

Dr. Behzad Akbarpour, a winner of the 2006 NSERC Doctoral Prize – one of Canada's premier graduate student awards – is a pioneer in the development of mathematical techniques to verify electronic computer chips that integrate complex digital signal processing algorithms.  

Currently a Research Associate at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, Dr. Akbarpour says we frequently hear about incidents where failure is caused by an error in a hardware or software system.  

The explosion of the European Space Agency's unmanned Ariane 5 rocket in 1996, less than 40 seconds after it was launched, was caused by a software error in the computer responsible for calculating its movement. Another design problem led to the costly replacement of defective Pentium processors by Intel Corporation in 1995.  

"Today, the usual validation method to discover the errors in the design flow of digital signal processing systems is still simulation. With simulation, input signals are injected at certain points in the system and the resulting signals at other points are observed," explains Dr. Akbarpour, a native of Shiraz, Iran.

These methods can be a cost-efficient way to find errors, but in order to get full confidence in the design, a complete simulation would have to be performed that covers all possible input combinations.  

Exhaustive simulation of even moderately sized circuits is impossible and partial simulation offers only partial assurance of correctness.  

A solution to these problems was one of the goals of Dr. Akbarpour's doctoral research in electrical and computer engineering at Concordia University under the direction of Dr. Sofiène Tahar.  

His thesis was based on formal methods for verifying the correctness of hardware and software designs, sometimes just called hardware verification.  

"With this approach, the behaviour of hardware and software devices is described using mathematical logics and the correctness is proved as a mathematical theorem. In this way, we can guarantee that for all possible values of inputs and outputs, the system works correctly," he says.