Chuck France/University Relations

Sarah Seguin is an assistant professor of electrical engineering, and researchers radar systems.

Campus closeup: Research on the radar screen

Sarah Seguin, assistant professor of electrical engineering

Years at current job: 2.5

Job duties: Teach undergraduate and graduate courses in electrical engineering, advise graduate and undergraduate students, perform research in the areas of electromagnetic compatibility, antennas and electromagnetics and to seek funding for grants from both public and private sources.

What’s one thing that would surprise people about your work? Just how many electronic devices are affected by the field of electromagnetic compatibility. All devices manufactured for sale in the United States must pass FCC emissions standards for electromagnetic compatibility to guarantee that the device will not interfere with other devices used in the household. Similar standards exist for military, industry and medical devices. This is a relatively young field and has only been around about 50 years and has really gained steam only in the last 20 as devices have become faster, which has led to additional interference problems. Additionally, the useable spectrum of wireless transmission has gotten increasingly crowded, which has further helped spur innovation in the field in order to make sure that we can continue to enjoy our wireless world without these devices failing due to their close proximity to one another.

You and a pair of colleagues hold a patent for an electromagnetic emissions stimulation and detection system. What is this technology and how did your work as a researcher and teacher help develop it? This research actually stems from my Ph.D. work at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. However, this patent was only recently awarded as it takes several years for a patent to become issued. The fundamental application that we were working on was to help develop technology that could be used in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world where terrorists might be inclined to use improvised explosive devices to remotely detonate roadside bombs. These devices have proven to be some of the most deadly weapons the armed forces have encountered because of their clandestine nature.

The technology we developed utilizes the phenomenon that these devices are often detonated by remote control of some kind – wireless door bells, cell phones, etc. All of these devices have receivers that are “listening” for their activation signal even though they are not broadcasting that signal “out” to the world. By using highly sophisticated antennas and digital signal processing, we were able to detect these unintended electromagnetic emissions and discern them from other devices that may be in the area. Further work led to a way to “stimulate” these receivers making them even easier to detect. These efforts led to a second patent finally awarded in late 2010. Although most of this work was done at Missouri S&T, I brought over this technology to KU with some further ideas for refinement and expansion, which is being actively pursued.

You research radar systems. When many lay people think of radar they imagine police using it to catch speeders or military applications. What are some other, modern uses and what sort of potential does it have? Radar systems have many applications but most of them can be loosely grouped into “remote sensing applications.” It’s the idea of being able to collect data on something that is far away or perhaps “within” other objects. A very common usage is weather radar where we can detect cloud formations or ground penetrating radar that might be looking for pockets of water or oil deep beneath the surface. Additionally, airports use radar to help keep tabs on incoming and outgoing air traffic. Radars essentially send out electromagnetic energy and listen for its return signal and then use digital signal processing to turn that into useable data of benefit to the end user.

Unfortunately, radars built for certain operations can be very electromagnetically “noisy” and produce extra electromagnetic waves into the environment that have nothing to do with their primary function. These unintended emissions can have horrific consequences, such as the unintentional disabling or the temporary disruption of flight instruments on an aircraft or the malfunctioning of critical medical devices, such as pacemakers. Much of my research looks into how to mitigate these electromagnetic “leaks” at the source as well as how to overcome unavoidable emissions by employing advanced shielding techniques or establishing guidelines for their simultaneous use.

You are affiliated with KU’s Information and Telecommunication Technology Center. How does your work fit into the center’s mission to create and commercialize new technologies and to provide essential knowledge to Kansas and national companies? Much of my work with ITTC has to do with both aerospace and military applications. For example, one research project I am working on involves working with local Wichita-based aerospace companies to determine the shielding effectiveness of new composite fuselages they are using as opposed to the more traditional aluminum. This research will help influence their design choices so that they will spend less time and money in the production phase as a lack of shielding effectiveness may lead to extremely costly retrofit operations.

Additional work I am doing at ITTC is with Shannon Blunt, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science. It involves designing and improving radars to be more spectrally efficient, meaning that they will radiate less and use less of the electromagnetic spectrum. This is to ultimately make room for more electronic devices to use the spectrum, especially since we have a limited amount of spectrum. There are parts of this technology that could be commercialized and applied to several different kinds of radar systems.

Other technology I am working on with Professor Blunt is to include actual physics in the signal processing of radar systems. Many times typical signal processing algorithms for radars can be too theoretical and not include what is physically happening in the real world. By including the actual physics in the processing (in this case full wave electromagnetic models), we can better implement a physically realizable radar system. My part is working on the electromagnetics and comparing what is happening with the actual real world with measurements and Professor Blunt does the signal processing and complex models.

Campus closeup
Sarah Seguin, assistant professor of electrical engineering
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