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CCU professor awarded grant to study effects of the marine environment on communication and sensing technologies

April 22, 2019
Erin Hackett has been awarded $273,187 from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) to support a project that examines the effects of a marine environment on sensing and communications technologies.

Erin Hackett, Coastal Carolina University associate professor in the Department of Coastal and Marine Systems Science, has been awarded $273,187 from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) to support a project that examines the effects of a marine environment on sensing and communications technologies.

This is Hackett’s fourth ONR award since joining the CCU faculty in 2012.

Hackett’s research project, titled “Influence of Horizontal Inhomogeneity of Refractivity Vertical Profiles on Electromagnetic Measurements in Application to Refractivity Inversions,” looks at the interactions between the air and the sea and how they influence electromagnetic waves, which are used in technologies such as cellular phones, wireless internet, and radar systems.

Hackett’s research also explores how to use radar measurements to remotely sense conditions in a marine environment. The challenge in understanding these effects is due to the complex exchange of heat, water vapor, and momentum across the air-sea interface.

“The interactions between the ocean and the atmosphere influence the air properties just above the ocean surface, and variations in these air properties influence the electromagnetic waves propagation,” said Hackett. “The ocean acts as a boundary to the air, what we call a boundary condition on the air. This means that the air just above the ocean surface is influenced by the ocean.”

The particular conditions of the air determine the quality and predictability of electromagnetic waves.

“If you don’t understand the properties of the air, then you can have unpredictable effects on these signals, like dropping of a signal, loss of a signal, or even an enhancement of a signal,” said Hackett. “These effects can also result in various sources of uncertainties, such as positioning errors.”

The ONR manages and funds science and technology development through the use of grants and contracts with a range of partners in academia, industry and government in the United States and around the world.

“The Office of Naval Research is interested in this study in order to improve their sensing and communications systems,” said Hackett. “This project helps with their objectives, but a better understanding of air-sea interaction and its influence on air properties is also important to other issues of societal importance, such as reliability of civilian communications technologies and even climate change.”

Hackett has been involved in this field of research for nearly a decade and currently co-directs CCU’s Environmental Fluids Lab, which focuses on the study of the fluid dynamics of the environment and its influence on various engineered and natural systems. Her work is carried out in collaboration with several other academic institutions and naval laboratories including the Naval Research Laboratory, Naval Surface Warfare Centers, and the Naval Postgraduate School.

The funded project will span three years and involve CCU students at both graduate and undergraduate levels. Hackett thinks the educational component of the grant is of significant value to the state and nation.

“It’s always exciting to be able to continue to pursue the research that you’re interested in and get students involved and help train them,” said Hackett. “One of the reasons I’m here at Coastal is that I think it’s really important to our society, and to our national security, to rigorously recruit and train U.S. students in science and technology fields.”

Students who have worked with Hackett on past projects and grants have gone on to earn internships, Department of Defense scholarships, and careers at naval laboratories involved in this research.

Michael Roberts, dean of CCU’s College of Science, said Hackett’s award reflects her dedication to both her discipline and her students.

“Since her arrival at Coastal Carolina University, Dr. Hackett has maintained a clear focus on obtaining external research support for her work,” said Roberts. “Even more importantly, in these externally-supported projects, she has included students – both graduate and undergraduate – in the research enterprise, providing unique and valuable experiences that will serve them well after they graduate from CCU.”