As Maverick closes in on the enemy MIGs, the radar technicians back at the aircraft carrier intensely watch the dots on the radar screen race towards each other. But which blip was which? If University engineers from the Valley Forge Research Center had their chance to make the movie Top Gun, this scene would be different. Instead of just watching blurred dots on a screen, the radar technicians instructing Tom Cruise would see the image of entire planes, not just electronic dots. This example is just one of the many possibilities and benefits of the University's Research Center of Valley Forge which, according to its directors, is dedicated to researching and developing new techniques for the use of radar. Located a few miles from the historic Valley Forge camp, the 50-acre center is changing the way people will look at radar in the future. Originally, the center was a Nike Missile site during the early 1950s when the Cold War hysteria was growing. According to Center Director Bernard Steinberg, missiles were stored in huge underground silos that still remain at the site. After the sites were disarmed, the lands were made available to non-profit organizations, like the University, dedicated to education. Directed by two professors and two emeritus professors, doctoral candidates and graduate students participate in the majority of research done at the Center. And from that, the University has used the site to coordinate their radar research -- research that they hope will go far beyond aircraft and war. RADAR -- an acronym for Radio Detection Ranging -- is a technique in which a transmitter releases a pulse of energy which hits a target. After hitting the target, the pulse produces an echo, and the echo returns to a receiver. The radar system then measures the time of flight between releasing and receiving the pulse and then uses the measurement of the speed of light to detect the distance of the target. Traditionally, the target appears on a monochrome radar screen as a small electronic dot. The distance and the angle from the center of the screen determine the location of the target. Now, after 20 years of research, scientists at the center have developed a breakthrough radar technique that will not only show the location of the target, but will also show the actual shape and detail of the target. "We are learning how to get pictures of objects with radar instead of just blips and blobs," Steinberg said. For example, air traffic controllers will soon be able to identify details, including the shape, the number of engines, and if the plane is wide-body or not, from their computer terminals. Steinberg said the new techniques will be used after the turn of the decade for air traffic safety. In addition, the Defense Department, which funds the majority of research at the center, will use the advanced radar in military equipment. Although the thrust of the work at the center has traditionally been aeronautics, Steinberg and his staff are now adapting their techniques to be used on the human body. "Now we are trying to apply microwave radar inside of the body," Steinberg said. "Our objective is to find a resolution small enough to identify very fine tumors and to differente tumors from cysts." According to Steinberg, the Center's radar techniques are being applied to breast cancer detection. Currently, when a tumor is found through a self-check examination, it may be too late to cure the patient in the long run. In addition, mammography, using an x-ray photo of the breast for early detection, cannot distinguish between cysts and tumors. A traditional ultrasound radar of the body, can distinguish between the two, but the picture is less clear than on the mammogram. "We believe that extremely high resolution work done with microwave radar can be applied to medical ultrasound for the purpose of improving ultrasound images," said Steinberg. Steinberg said that in the near future the experimental equipment will be taken from the center to HUP to make measurements on 80 women coming in for mammograms. During the testing, the radar will measure the distortion that ultrasound does to the breast. Eventually, Steinberg said, the Center will be able to design techniques that compensate for the distortion of the breast and build a scanner with high resolution for HUP and other medical centers. In addition, the radar techniques may eventually be used to identify what pollutants cover the bottoms of channels and harbors and solve environmental problems.Comments powered by Disqus
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