Team led by Wright State professor Elliott Brown wins prestigious IEEE Best Paper Award for polarimetric radar work

Elliott Brown, the Ohio Research Scholars Endowed Chair in Sensors Physics, and his team of researchers were recognized for their research on the polarization of electromagnetic radiation, or radio waves.

A team led by Wright State University physicist and electrical engineer Elliott Brown that conducted research which promises to improve polarimetric radar won a Best Paper Award at the IEEE National Aerospace Electronics Conference.

The award was presented to Brown, first author and postdoctoral research associate W-D. Zhang and co-author and graduate engineering student Andrea Mingardi on July 25 at the conference in Dayton held by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The IEEE is the world’s largest association of technical professionals, with more than 400,000 members in chapters around the world.

“The award carries some prestige, particularly for IEEE members like ourselves,” said Brown, the Ohio Research Scholars Endowed Chair in Sensors Physics.

Brown’s research centered on the polarization of electromagnetic radiation — radio waves. Radio waves have both magnetic and electrical fields, which are generally perpendicular to each other. A polarizer distinguishes between the two fields.

“What we were trying to do was to get better discrimination of the polarization of the electromagnetic field,” Brown said. “No polarizer is perfect. A polarizer will pass a certain amount of radiation even when it’s aligned to block it.”

Brown and his team developed a new kind of polarizer using a technique called surface-structured plasmonics, which entails the engineering of electron currents that exist at the interface between common metals and air. The paper also reported some preliminary results on a prototype polarimetric radar that utilizes the technology.

“What we did is make it much better than existing technology,” said Brown. “It’s important because when you’re doing polarimetric measurements using radar, increasing the selectivity between polarizations improves the identification of certain targets. You can tell a lot more about an object being illuminated by the radar.”

For example, a radar may be trying to identify a vehicle hidden in a forest.

“Let’s say between the vehicle and the radar are trees and power lines,” said Brown. “You can determine whether the back reflection came from the vehicle or the wires by just rotating the polarization. Power lines strongly scatter radio waves polarized parallel to the lines, but not the perpendicular polarization. It’s really about target ID and the improved overall performance of radar.”

Besides military applications, there may also be promising ones in medical imaging and collision avoidance radar.

Elliott Brown, left, NAECON representative Robert Ewing and Wright State Ph.D. student Andrea Mingardi.

The research is supported by, or in part by, the U.S. Army Research Office and the Ohio Research Scholars Program, which started in 2008 when Wright State was awarded the funds to create the position that was eventually filled by Brown.

It was the intention to find someone who would bring to Wright State a cutting-edge research program that spanned not only multiple scientific disciplines but also encompassed both basic and applied work. Brown continues to fulfill the mission and spirit of the endowed chair position by leading research and educational efforts such as the recent radar project.

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