Engineering Professors Win Research Grant of Nearly $1.9 Million
to Improve Infrared Sensing
6, 2000 -- Travis Blalock and Michael Reed, two professors
of electrical engineering
at the University of Virginia, have won a grant of nearly $1.9 million
from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to study
ways of making infrared cameras more sensitive.
infrared technology, which has both military and civilian applications,
is a priority at DARPA, which funds basic and applied research projects
for the U.S. Department of Defense, Blalock said.
will focus on improving fundamental sensing technology rather than
applications," he said. The researchers plan to produce a prototype
to prove their concept by the end of the three-year project.
is a tremendous amount of interest currently in the development
and improvement of environmental sensors," said Gene Block,
vice president for research and public service. "The successful
efforts of Travis Blalock and Michael Reed in securing support for
this important fundamental research project is strong evidence of
the research competence in our electrical engineering program. This
is a wonderful opportunity for these talented investigators and
for the University."
sensing -- also known as heat sensing or thermography -- is already
advanced. But improving the technology so that devices can perform
closer to their theoretic limits can lead to new or improved capabilities.
to improve the sensitivity of sensors is a constant challenge,"
Reed said. "Were trying to make them more sensitive,
cheaper, more compact, and more highly integrated with electronic
microelectronics revolution of the past 40 years has led to an incredible
shrinkage and enormous increase in the capabilities of electrical
circuitry and spawned a new field -- microelectromechanical machines
(MEMs)," said Haydn Wadley, associate dean for research in
the School of Engineering and Applied Science. "MEMs have resulted
in a similar shrinkage of mechanical machines like gears, levers,
and rotors, which are now so small many can be fitted to the head
of a pin.
and Travis have married microelectronics with MEMs and started on
a new path of discovery and invention that promises exciting new
technologies. It is an outstanding example of the kind of developments
we hoped to see when the engineering school formed the University
of Virginia Institute for Microelectronics in 1996."
technology has a multitude of civilian uses, including: wildlife
observation and control, wildfire hot-spot detection, oil spill
location, search and rescue, predictive maintenance of industrial
machinery, circuit board analysis, crime fighting, navigational
aids, and human and veterinary medicine. Military uses include missile
guidance systems and night vision aids.
Blalock-Reed research team will be working specifically to improve
a microbolometer imaging array, a device that measures heat. Similar
to a digital camera, the device is sensitive to infrared radiation
rather than visible light.
models of bolometers lose heat, and therefore sensitivity, through
their wiring and physical support structures. The Blalock-Reed project
proposes to create a wireless model that would eliminate the problem
of such heat loss. Instead, their "flying carpet" model
would be levitated by electric field forces. Measurements would
be taken during brief, touch-and-go contacts between the heat sensors
and measurement electronics, again reducing heat loss.
University of Virginia is providing $330,300 in matching funds,
a show of support the researchers believe gave them an edge in the
nationwide competition for the federal grant. Funds will be spent
primarily on laboratory equipment, materials, supplies and student
more information, contact Travis Blalock at (804) 924-1331, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or, contact Michael Reed at (804) 924-6309, or email@example.com.
Charlotte Crystal, (804) 924-6858