Kuhn’s work in wireless technology includes 3-year project with NASA

By Bryan Richardson

Bill Kuhn, K-State professor of electrical and computer engineering, has received praise in recent months related to his work with NASA on wireless technology. And he’s getting just the slightest bit tired of it.

The Topeka Capital-Journal recognized Kuhn as the 2011 Distinguished Kansan in the area of science. And the Ad Astra Kansas Initiative highlighted him among the top 150 Kansas researchers past and present, along with 20 other K-State faculty members.

“It’s kind of embarrassing,” Kuhn said. “I don’t think I do that much more than anybody else.”

Kuhn said while it’s an honor to be recognized, plenty of research is happening all over the university. Also, he said the research doesn’t through his work alone.

“That’s not the way research is done,” Kuhn said. “It’s a team effort. That’s why it’s a little embarrassing.”

Kuhn, along with K-State faculty and students, started new research with NASA in October involving technology for human space flights and robotic scout missions. The three-year project includes researching wireless biosensors in spacesuits to monitor the life signs for humans and the wireless technology to send the information back to Earth.

“The goal of the future is to go out further in the solar system,” Kuhn said. “Our work is the precursor to that future work.”

Kuhn and his graduate students worked with NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory staff and Peregrine Semiconductor engineers from 2004 to 2007 to create a micro transceiver to help in the search for water and life on Mars.

The work with NASA is appropriate for Kuhn, 55, who grew up during the period of the moon landings, which he said influenced him. He also had a love for amateur, or ham, radio during grade school and in high school.

Before the Internet made it possible to instant message and video chat, Kuhn said his use of ham radio provided the ability to communicate with others without using the landline telephone.

“What inspired me back in those days was the magic of it,” he said. “It’s lost in these days where everyone has a cell phone and other technologies.”

Kuhn said the radio technology still holds a magic if people think about it. He said the ability for data to be collected from Mars — “a place no bigger than a star to the human eye” — is an example of this.

“To transmit information from there back to Earth is amazing,” he said.

Kuhn worked in California for Ford Aerospace and Communications Corp. and at the Georgia Tech Research Institute after graduating from Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

He went to back to school at Georgia Institute of Technology for his doctorate because he wanted to teach the next generation. “I wanted to have more of an impact,” he said.

Kuhn, who has taught at K-State for 16 years, said the important thing about any honor he receives or project he’s commissioned to do is the opportunity to educate. He said he tries to utilize the projects he works on in the classroom.

“When we can, we show them the results of research,” he said. “In general, I think that inspires them.”

Kuhn said he wants his students to work hard and learn as much as possible. “This is one of the best times in their lives,” he said. “They get to experience new things and learn every day.”

With this project, students will get the opportunity to do preliminary research on the next generation of NASA radios, which Kuhn said he hopes will be used in future missions.

“From the point of view working on a NASA project, it’s good to educate students,” he said. “To have the students do the work really prepares them for their careers.”

Kuhn is looking forward to the upcoming work. “We’re just starting to get into it,” Kuhn said. “This semester will be exciting. We got a lot of things planned.”

The team effort includes faculty members Tom Barstow (Kinesiology Department), Dwight Day (Electrical and Computer Engineering Department), Don Gruenbacher (ECE Department), Bala Natarajan (ECE Department), Tim Sobering (Electronic Design Lab) and Steve Warren (ECE Department).

Students working on the project are Carl Ade, Ryan Broxterman, Xiongjie Dong, Riley Harrington, Amelia Hodges, Safa Khamis, Matt Morley, Wen Song and Mohammed Tajeldin.

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