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Citadel News Service
13 Mar 2017

It's on his radar: Charleston professor sees new use for detection technology

As appeared in The Post and Courier
By Thad Moore

Since it came to prominence in World War II, radar has been used in all sorts of new ways, but the idea has always been essentially the same.

That basic concept is the same for meteorologists mapping weather systems, air-traffic controllers tracking planes and cops catching speeding cars. Radio waves go out, bounce off something and return a signal revealing its location and movement.

For that same reason, radar isn't much good for finding objects that have been hidden - things that have been buried, obscured or smuggled to avoid detection. But a Citadel professor thinks it might be.

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Citadel Professor Gregory Mazzaro

Gregory Mazzaro, a professor of electrical engineering at the college, says his research shows that radio waves can be used to trace electronic devices, even if they've been hidden.

Mazzaro was awarded a series of patents last fall for his work with so-called "harmonic radar," which he says can pick up the radio waves that devices like smartphones emit.

Like normal radar, it sends out radio waves and tracks what comes back. What makes it unique is that it measures how distorted those waves are when they come back, since a changed frequency might indicate that they got tangled up with another transmission.

In short, he says, the device picks up those waves and re-transmits them, sending back waves that have been altered. If those same radio waves hit a tree, however, they'd bounce back unchanged.

"The way that traditional radar works is that you send out a wave and you actually bounce back the same frequency," Mazzaro said. "This radar is a little bit different because it sends out a couple of different frequencies and the ones that come back are very, very different."

The ability to spot hidden devices could have far-reaching uses. It could identify a bugged room, detect contraband or help find a missing person carrying a device like a cellphone, Mazzaro says.

That range of possibilities helps explain where Mazzaro conducted his research: the Army Research Laboratory in Maryland, where he worked after earning his doctorate in 2009.


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