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Sensing the Future: Ali Abedi Director of Wi-Se-Net Lab Talks About His Work

The University of Maine is one of the premier research institutions in Maine, and the different types of research happening there may surprise some Mainers. Dr. Ali Abedi, Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering, Director of Wi-Se-Net Lab, and Director of the Center for Undergraduate Research is an example of one of UMaine’s researches who may surprise you. Ali is a leading researcher who is doing exciting work not just for Maine but for the U.S.; we caught up with Ali recently to ask him about some of his most recent work.

1) The University of Maine just had their first payload launched in space. Can you describe the project and what you and NASA hope to get out of it?

After several years of research and development, WiSe-Net lab researchers at University of Maine created a stand alone wireless device for detecting air leaks inside pressurized space vehicles or habitats. This system includes multiple ultrasonic sensors that listen for acoustic waves emitted from a small hole causing air leak. The large amount of data collected from these sensors are then statistically analyzed using a number of different algorithms and signal processing methods to find the most likely location of the leak.  This can help save crew time, save precious air in deep space missions, and has the potential to be used here on earth for safety at homes or inside gas and oil pipelines.

2) How many students were involved with the project?

One postdoctoral fellow, two doctoral students, and two Masters students in Electrical and Computer Engineering department..

3) Do you have more work lined up with NASA?

Yes, we just received our first set of data and are analyzing it to learn from it; we hope to improve our methods, so they will work better in space.  We also have a similar project where we are trying to detect the signature of a leak signal and with that we can determine the material of the specific leaking layer; the pressure; and the hole size to determine the severity of damage and decide on appropriate action.  Other space related projects at WiSe-Net lab include:  Crew health monitoring using wireless sensors and energy transfer to battery-free sensors.

4) What other types of research are you working on your lab?

Other than NASA, we also work with local industry in Maine in the area of Rural Broadband, structural monitoring of various types (e.g. stadium seats), and environmental monitoring (e.g. water quality) using wireless sensors.  These are funded by NSF, MTI, Army, and local companies in Maine.

5) Your lab will be part of the upcoming Maine Science Festival. Why is it important to get out of the lab and talk about your work?

It is important for the younger generation to understand how engineering and science can impact the world. Maine economic development and future global competitiveness depends on future engineers and scientists and their passion for the state.  We also hope to spread awareness among the general public and show the  impact of space technology and University research on their day to day quality of life. The MSF is one of the best venues for everyone to come and learn how they can change the world.

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