KU researchers take different paths for land mine detection and removal

Lawrence,KS (11-22-2002)

From University Relations
By Anne Merydith-Wolf

LAWRENCE -- On Dec. 5, as people across the world participate in the "Night of a Thousand Dinners" to raise awareness about the land mine crisis, a University of Kansas researcher wants them to know that the de-mining effort is a lot like fighting a disease.

"In a horrible disease like cancer, you have a situation where there are many treatments, but some treatments work well for some problems and other treatments work well for other problems," said Jim Stiles, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at KU.

Stiles, who helped develop a ground-penetrating radar to detect mines, is one of several KU researchers exploring the various treatments in the battle to detect and remove land mines. He and
another KU researcher -- Jerry Dobson, a research professor in the Kansas Applied Remote Sensing program and courtesy professor in geography -- will hold a public forum next week to explain the challenges of their research projects.

The public forum will take place at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5, in Alderson Auditorium of the Kansas Union. Deborah Netland, program manager in the Office of Humanitarian De-Mining Programs, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, U.S. Department of State, will join the researchers, giving a global view of de-mining efforts as well as providing context for the de-mining research projects here at KU.

The Office of International Programs is sponsoring the forum in conjunction with the other "Night of a Thousand Dinners" events it planned.

Stiles recently was part of a team of university researchers from KU, the University of Missouri, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Texas at Arlington to develop the ground-penetrating radar. Dobson, meanwhile, is approaching the challenge from a different angle -- with the help of satellite imagery.

Previously, Dobson led a team of researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee in developing the state-of-the-art LandScan population database. They used a geographic information system to combine a number of variables including the best-available census counts of every country in the world, land cover and nighttime lights interpreted from satellite images, and road networks and terrain. Last year Dobson was invited by the U. S. State Department and European Union de-mining programs to visit the Balkan Region to discuss how LandScan and even more precise population data can be used to determine priorities for de-mining. Such databases could be used, for example, to estimate the number of people in danger
surrounding each minefield or to identify locations strategically separating one population cluster from another.

The radar that Stiles' team developed uses electromagnetic waves -- very low-frequency light that cannot be seen by the human eye -- to calculate spatial measurements below the surface. The radar distinguishes land mines from rocks by the symmetry of the object -- rocks and other natural objects are usually jagged and rough, while manmade mines usually have perfect geometric symmetry.

Because no current detector is 100 percent accurate, Stiles sees his radar as one tool in an ever-expanding toolbox of technologies that can help erase the uncertainty.

"If you were a user of one of these devices and the radar or the sensor picks up an indication that there is some object under the ground and says it is 99 percent certain that it is not a mine,
will you take that next step? If you're someone who does the de-mining and you take a thousand steps a day, a 99 percent probability is not high enough," he said.

Still, as long as he, Dobson and countless other researchers are approaching the problem from various angles, they're bound to find a way to help rid the world of these deadly hidden weapons.

"I am just one small piece of the puzzle," Stiles said. "It's a very difficult problem. There are lots of different solutions that are being pursued, and probably all of them need to be pursued."

For more information about the "Night of a Thousand Dinners" events, visit www.1000dinners.com or call toll-free (877) 543-6463. For information specific to the KU-sponsored events, contact the Office of International Programs at oip@ku.edu or call (785) 864-6161.

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