Dr. Michael Steer

November 29, 2011

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In Iraq and Afghanistan, nothing has posed a greater threat to American soldiers than improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

With support from the U.S. military, Dr. Michael Steer, Lampe Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has developed technology allowing soldiers to identify IEDs from a distance. Steer found that electromagnetic energy could be used to illuminate cell phones – often used as IED detonators – and measure their responses, giving the military insight into how the devices worked.

“This is a game-changer in modern warfare. It changed the way the enemy behaves,” Army Maj. Gen. Nick Justice said at a March 2010 ceremony where Steer received the U.S. Army Commander’s Award for Public Service.

“As a result of this work, we hope that one day our soldiers will have pocket-sized devices that can warn them of nearby roadside bombs and suicide bombers,” Steer said in 2010. “If you’re a Star Trek fan, we’re trying to build a real-world tricorder.”

Long years of research led to Steer’s innovative approach to identifying IEDs. At a September 2012 showcase of NC State’s research related to the military, Steer said he worked without vacation for 80 hours a week over three years to develop the technology.

“I said to myself, ‘If I give up, young soldiers might die,’” he said.

In 2010, a multi-university group led by NC State received a three-year, $4.3 million grant from the Office of Naval Research to expand on the research. The study’s goal is to find ways of using sound waves to make objects vibrate and render them detectable by other technologies, such as radar.