MU center beams into defense work

Research by the CGI will help the military develop new technology.
Wednesday, January 4, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:05 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

An overhead projector beamed a satellite image on the wall before a group gathered in the hallway of the Lafferre Building on the MU campus Tuesday.

The display was a presentation of an “imagery retrieval system” created by the university’s Center for Geospatial Intelligence for the U.S. Department of Defense. The program can search a database of satellite images to locate anything from a lake to a nuclear weapons plant.

Defense planners awarded the CGI $1.75 million for similar projects aimed at better analyzing the data from satellite imagery, aircraft video and a growing arsenal of U.S. military spy tools.

Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., also announced Tuesday that MU’s Center for Micro/Nano Systems and Nonotechnology will receive $2 million from the 2006 Defense Appropriations Bill to develop computer chip and sensor technology.

Both projects are housed in the MU College of Engineering and are the only academic ­centers in the nation working on their respective technologies. Both are “signature programs” of the College of Engineering, said Vicky Hodder, senior information specialist of the college, meaning they are areas in which the college is focusing its funds and research.

James Thompson, dean of the College of Engineering, said that grants from military, government and commercial sources are important to the school’s mission.

“This is the way that graduate and Ph.D. programs in the United States are funded,” he said.

The CGI, established at MU in 2004, works closely with the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency in St. Louis and Washington, D.C. Each will influence the work done at the MU facility, said Curt Davis, CGI director. A $1.6 million building, funded by the College of Engineering, is expected to be completed in late 2006 or early 2007, Davis said.

The new defense grant will fund any additions or staff the center needs, as well as existing salaries, Davis said.

“We will be developing computer software ... for exploiting satellite imagery and other geospacial data and trying to make it as automated as possible,” Davis said.

The Center for Micro/Nano Systems and Nonotechnology has received more than $2 million from the College of Engineering for a research facility, said Shubhra Gangopadhyay, co-director of the center.

The Defense Department funding announced Tuesday will be used to continue projects such as an ultrasonic generator that can detect tumors in the human body. The generator can also be used to detonate improvised explosive devices, the deadly weapons that have fueled the insurgency fighting American troops in Iraq.

Gangopadhyay said the center’s computer nano-chip technology will be used to produce more powerful weaponry, electric power generators, light-weight guided missile systems and sensors that can detect chemical and biological threats.

Gangopadhyay said the thought of the center’s technology being used for destructive, even deadly, purposes “is hurting me also.” She said she contacted a U.S. Army official at the Picatinny Arsenal, through which the center’s project is budgeted. He told her the technology would only be used to kill “bad people,” she said.

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