KU graduate student earns fellowship for his research

Kansas City,MO (09-12-2004)

From The Kansas City Star
By Melodee Hall Blobaum

Brandon Heavey, 24, of Overland Park.

Heavey is one of 52 graduate students from across the nation to receive the Earth System Science Graduate Student Fellowship, worth $24,000 annually, from NASA. He is a graduate student in electrical engineering at the University of Kansas.

How he did it
Heavey and other researchers in KU's Radar Systems and Remote Sensing Laboratory at the Information and Telecommunication Technology Center are developing radar to measure sea ice thickness.

"Sea ice acts as an insulating layer between the ocean and the atmosphere," Heavey said. "The sea ice acts as a reflector for thermal energy and plays a key role in global temperature balance. There's a lot of interest in global warming right now, and this research is tied in with that."

Scientists know that sea ice is retreating in some areas and swelling in others, Heavey said, but no one knows why. In addition, though sensors can measure the extent of sea ice, they can't determine its thickness. Heavey said he hopes his project will fill the gap.

Heavey traveled to Greenland in May 2003 for an airborne experiment to study the ice sheet's internal layers for information about ice accumulation from year to year. "It's like looking at the rings of a tree," he said. In September and October he was part of an experiment that studied ice in Antarctica.

He'll take the radar he's developing for a spin in the Mohave Desert in November, and if all goes well, he'll test it in Alaska in the early spring.

What he says
Radar served as Heavey's entree into the field of global warming. He worked at the Radar Systems and Remote Sensing Laboratory as an undergraduate and developed an interest in radar systems for his graduate work. "But as I've progressed with that, I have learned more and more about global warming, and that's a very interesting aspect for me right now," he said.

The last word
Heavey holds a bachelor's degree in computer engineering from KU and plans to pursue a doctorate in electrical engineering once he has his master's degree. He said he enjoyed a stint as a teaching assistant, which means he could remain in academia in the future.

"A career as a professor sounds intriguing to me," he said. "I enjoy teaching, and I really enjoy the research."

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