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New radar lab to step up sensing

UD'S new radar lab to advance sensing or manufacturing, medicine, aviation and more

Dancing an aerial ballet choreographed to classical music, four large robotic arms entertained visitors who attended the dedication of the University of Dayton’s new Mumma Radar Laboratory June 10. But when they get down to business, those robotic arms – part of one of the most precise radar instruments in the world – are working to advance sensing for a diverse array of applications in fields such as aviation, weather prediction, manufacturing, first response and rescue and medicine.

"From a healthcare perspective, my long term vision is that we’ll one day be able to quickly determine a person’s skin health without requiring the removal of clothing," said lab director Michael Wicks, UD’s Ohio Research Scholars Endowed Chair in Sensors Exploitation and Fusion. "One of our dreams here at UD/UDRI, but also in southwest Ohio, is to bring together the technology to allow us to do early tornado warnings," Wicks said to a reporter at the dedication.

While rapid skin cancer screening is a long-term goal, it is achievable, Wicks believes. In the near future, the radar system will help UD’s faculty, professional and student researchers improve sensing for applications such as antenna characterization, radar cross-section measurements, detecting defects in 3-D printed objects, and using wireless tomography to aid first responders in emergency situations with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles.

Advances in radar and sensing technologies at UD also can help boost the Dayton, Ohio and Midwest economies by helping businesses in these areas participate in the manufacture of radar systems, which are now predominantly built in east and west coastal states, said Larrell Walters, head of the University of Dayton Research Institute’s Sensor Systems division.

The robotic radar equipment works by using antennae that transmit and receive radio waves to measure objects spatially and structurally. The responding waves from the object allow the sensing system to create a high resolution image of the object. What makes this system so precise, Wicks said, is that the robotic arms holding the antenna are able to adjust them to within one-tenth of a micron – a fraction of a human hair – as they move around an object. The system’s ability to repeatedly and accurately measure a target’s response is what will make the information it provides so valuable, Wicks added.

The Mumma Radar Laboratory was created with a $1.5 million award from the Ohio Research Scholars Program, with additional funding from industry for some lab equipment. It is a collaborative effort between UD’s School of Engineering and Research Institute. The lab was designed and built by Wicks and UDRI researchers Lorenzo Lo Monte and Donald Kessler, who are also professors in the School of Engineering’s department of electrical and computer engineering.

Before its evolution to the new radar lab, the facility was originally established with a $1.2 million endowment in 1988 from Retha Mumma following the death of her husband, Marvin Mumma, who had a highly successful career as a radio and electronics technician.

Each year, sponsored research programs at the University of Dayton provide real-world research opportunities to nearly 300 undergraduate and graduate students working with more than 500 professional and faculty researchers from the Research Institute, the School of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences.

June 10, 2014

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