From the Lab to the Cloud

A sense of wonder leads Marc Loinaz to help transform our world

Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. Flickr. If you have a smartphone, you've probably taken a picture or video and posted it, messaged it or shared it without thinking of what it takes to power your device. Meet Marc Loinaz (EE'88), one of the engineers behind the technology that allows smartphones to capture our lives and interconnect us so powerfully, and who has helped bring this technology to market.

In the mid-1990s the idea of ubiquitous cameras and high-speed networks that could be used to freely circulate pictures and video traffic had been envisioned, but not realized. The technology we have today is the result of thousands of engineers and business people relentlessly pushing the limits of what could be done with electronics, photonics and software. Loinaz worked in the forefront of the development of both low-cost CMOS (Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor) imagers and optical networking components using chips. Loinaz sees the rise of today's cloud-based computing infrastructure with the use of technologies he has worked on as the most exhilarating period of his professional life. "There is a sense that everything we worked on is coming together and truly changing the way we live," Loinaz says.

Laying the Groundwork

The seeds of engineering entrepreneurship were sown early in Loinaz's career while he was still an undergraduate at Penn. His father (a Wharton MBA) had "brainwashed" him into majoring in engineering because it involved learning quantitative analysis. But during his junior year, the late Fred Ketterer, Electrical Engineering Professor, introduced him to "the fun and wonder of designing electronics-based systems." As a senior electrical engineering student, Loinaz engaged in the research and design of silicon chips. His senior project, designing a full-custom CMOS chip for use in a neural network-based vision system, was undertaken for basic research without thought to commercial use. Yet, this project laid essential groundwork for understanding the kind of research and design that can lead to the commercial application of engineering work. The project was supervised by Professor of Electrical Engineering Jan Van der Spiegel and the late Paul Mueller, M.D., of the School of Medicine, both of whom he credits with showing him that it is "cool and fun to be a researcher." After graduating with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, Loinaz continued his academic career at Stanford, earning a doctorate in the same field.

From Academia to Practice

From there, Loinaz put theory into practice at Bell Labs in New Jersey. He says being at Bell Labs "was like earning another Ph.D.," so intense and fascinating was the work. There he did the seminal exploration that led to the development of the camera chips now found in cell phones, receiving multiple awards for his work. When Bell Labs expressed little interest in the development and marketing of this technology, Loinaz felt frustrated.

In the early 2000s high-speed fiber optic communication was "all the rage," he says, and he joined friends from graduate school to start a company focused on building components for optical networking.

A Leap of Faith

Thus began the most harrowing and exciting period of his career. In 2001 Loinaz quit his job, sold his house in New Jersey, and moved to Silicon Valley to join his group of cofounders. The group, armed with only PowerPoint slides, raised the venture capital from New Enterprise Associates. Their fledgling company, Aeluros, Inc., began designing, manufacturing, and marketing the CMOS 10Gb/s Ethernet communication chips now used in the data centers of some of the world's largest web companies to interconnect their multitudes of servers. In 2007, after achieving dominant market position in 10Gb/s Ethernet transceivers, Aeluros was acquired by NetLogic Microsystems, where Loinaz continued to serve as Director of Integrated Circuit Design. Last year, Broadcom Corporation acquired NetLogic and Loinaz continues to manage a team of circuit designers pushing the limits of high-speed analog and digital electronics.

Loinaz is as excited today about exploring engineering topics as he was as a young researcher at Penn. His advice to young engineers is to "nurture your curiosity, and fearlessly seek intellectual growth."

View the article in Penn Engineering magazine "From the Lab to the Cloud" by Stephanie Sayago Bell.

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