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Two KU Engineering graduate students claim top honors at international radar conference

Mon, 04/18/2022

LAWRENCE — Two University of Kansas School of Engineering students have received international recognition for their research on radar systems.

Jonathan Owen and Christian Jones, both doctoral students in electrical engineering & computer science, took first and second place, respectively, in the student paper contest at the 2022 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Radar Conference, a gathering in March of students and researchers from 37 countries. The awards continued a winning streak of sorts for EECS — Jones took first place in last year’s competition, and the department has had a top-three finisher in the contest nearly every year since 2016. Seventy-one papers were submitted from around the world for the contest.

“This in particular is the flagship conference in the field of radar in the world. So being able to have students even get selected to the top five is significant,” said Shannon Blunt, the Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science. “If from time to time you get a student in the top three, it is a big deal. The fact we’ve had several in the last few years shows KU to be a powerhouse, if you will.”

Owen took first place — along with credited co-authors Blunt, Charles Mohr, Brandon Ravenscroft, Benjamin Kirk and Anthony Martone — for his paper “Real-Time Experimental Demonstration and Evaluation of Open-Air Sense-and-Notch Radar." The research examined methods for letting radar and 5G communications systems share the wireless spectrum without interfering with each other, an issue that became headline news earlier this year when Verizon and AT&T delayed launching 5G services near U.S. airports over concerns about flight safety.

“Never before has radar needed to avoid interfering with communications,” Owen said. “It’s a new problem because the spectrum is becoming more congested.”

Jones — along with credited co-authors Blunt, Owen, Zeus Gannon, Dan DePardo, Christopher T. Allen and Benjamin Kirk — took second place for his paper, “Development & Experimental Assessment of Robust Direction Finding and Self-Calibration,” which similarly focused on methods for getting accurate radar readings amid an increasingly cluttered wireless spectrum.

“The work presented by the students from University of Kansas was both of high quality, novel to the field of radar, theoretically sound and practically demonstrated, which landed them in the top five of the conference as reviewed by a panel of judges from all of the world,” said Willie Nel, chief radar engineer for the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa and the lead judge for the contest. “Furthermore, they impressed the panel of judges with a well-presented, clear and concise presentation of their work and could defend their work well under the stress of a student paper final.”

Owen said KU has given him a firm foundation for his success at the conference.

“We’ve had some great successes within our lab,” he said. “I think the key to success in our lab is that the advisers consistently make sure we have all the resources and connections needed to produce relevant research in the radar field.”

Blunt said KU’s streak of success owes to a tradition of quality going back to Richard Moore, who taught in the department for more than 30 years starting in the early 1960s and started the university’s Radar Systems & Remote Sensing Lab. And EECS gives itself another advantage by working to bridge the “valley of death” between theoretical academic work and real-world radar applications used by government and industry.

“If you look across academia in general, even in the world of radar, there’s a lot of work that’s extremely theoretical. It’s basically applied math,” Blunt said. “We do that as well. But where we stand out is we take that theoretical work and put it in experimental work. We prove these things work in the real world.”

RadarConf’22 was sponsored by IEEE, the world’s largest technical professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity. The conference took place March 21-25 in New York City.



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