KU associate professor wins international engineering award

LAWRENCE — Separating the wheat from the chaff (in an electromagnetic sense) has earned a University of Kansas professor an international engineering award.

Shannon Blunt, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, will receive the prestigious Fred Nathanson Memorial Radar Award on May 9 during an awards ceremony in Atlanta. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Aerospace and Electronic Systems Society selected Blunt for the highly competitive honor that each year recognizes one researcher under the age of 40 for outstanding contributions to the field of radar.

“Shannon’s work is a shining example of the power of cutting-edge engineering. He continues to break new ground in the development of radar and electromagnetic signals and is truly deserving of this recognition. We are proud to see him honored with this award,” said Dean of Engineering Stuart Bell.

“Given the past recipients of this award and the numerous other deserving candidates, I am deeply honored to stand among them,” said Blunt. “I continue to be amazed at the wide array of new technologies being developed to sense the world around us, and I am absolutely thrilled to get to play a part in it.”

As a pioneer of waveform diversity research, Blunt has created innovative techniques to “deconstruct” signals that vary in time, frequency and space to tease out desired information. He says it is a little bit like listening for whispers in a crowded room. Enhanced sensitivity to signals of interest is one of the fundamental goals of radar research.

“I regard him as one of the up-and-coming young stars of the radar community,” said Hugh Griffiths, president of the IEEE Aerospace and Electronic Systems Society and a professor at University College London. “In terms of his stature as a result of this work, I can say that he has a truly international reputation. He has made some significant contributions in the new subject of Waveform Diversity — indeed, he is regarded as one of the flag-bearers in this subject.”

The broad scope of signal processing, his area of research, allows Blunt to explore a variety of related problems. For example, while researchers have traditionally looked at ways to minimize interference, Blunt actually developed a new form of high-speed covert communication that exploits the “crowded room” of radar echoes to embed hidden signals. This new form of communication, developed under a U.S. Air Force Young Investigator Award, may provide soldiers in harm’s way a new means to communicate safely. 

Blunt also recently teamed with researchers from the Hogland Brain Imaging Center (HBIC) at the KU Medical Center to explore new methods for brain imaging. Leveraging a technique he had previously developed for radar antenna arrays, Blunt and KU Med researchers created the patent-pending Source Affine Image Reconstruction (SAFFIRE) algorithm to enable more accurate generation of magnetoencephalography (MEG) images, which can be used to detect abnormalities in brain function and could aid in the understanding and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders.

“Dr. Blunt has established himself as an expert and valuable resource on a diverse array of radar-related research topics that may benefit from advanced signal processing,” said KU Distinguished Professor Emeritus Richard Moore, who pioneered the field of radar remote sensing of the environment and founded the KU Radar Systems and Remote Sensing Lab, for which Blunt is the current director.

After receiving his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Missouri in 2002, Blunt worked at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., before coming to KU in 2005. He has received the Harry Talley Teaching Excellence Award in 2008 and the Miller Professional Development Award for Research and Bellows Scholar Award from the School of Engineering in 2008 and 2010, respectively. He served as general chair for the IEEE Radar Conference in 2011 that for the first time took place in Kansas City.