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NASA Donates Advanced Aerosol Detection Machine to ODU Vision Lab

NASA has made a gift to Old Dominion University: an advanced aerosol detection machine that identifies specific air pollutants.

ODU's Machine Vision and Computational Laboratory (Vision Lab) was given the $100,000 machine, known as the NASA Aerosol LiDAR (light detection and ranging system), this past summer. The machine was built in the Science Directorate at NASA Langley Research Center to do aerosol and cloud atmospheric profiling. NASA's goal was to use the LiDAR system to make aerosol profile measurements in the Norfolk-Virginia Beach area.

The Vision Lab was given the LiDAR system to boost the university's atmospheric research into aerosols, which are tiny solid or liquid particles suspended in the air that can affect weather, climate and the health of humans who breathe them in.

Researchers plan to combine the infrared laser emitted by the LiDAR with the computational vision technology utilized by the Vision Lab to determine the presence and types of pollutants - those smaller than 10 micrometers wide - in the air.

"Studies have shown exposure to the smallest of these particles has a significant association to premature death, respiratory and cardiovascular disease, lung disease, decreased lung function, asthma attacks and irregular heartbeat," said Vision Lab director Khan Iftekharuddin, a professor in ODU's Batten College of Engineering and Technology.

The machine, which when mounted on a portable cart is about the size of a photocopy machine, is wheeled out onto a balcony of one of the buildings of Innovation Research Park @ ODU, where the Vision Lab is housed. When turned on, the laser is beamed and then reflected skyward with a mirror, and readings come down at the speed of light into the sensor attached to the machine.

High-tech monitors allow the LiDAR to create a profile of the aerosols observed, in terms of their composition, altitude and distance. The received light is split into different channels, filtered and then digitized for display, storage and further processing.

Iftekharuddin and Amr Yousef, a postdoctoral fellow at the Vision Lab, are currently working to characterize the LiDAR system. In the next year, they hope to capture aerosol profiles at select locations around Hampton Roads, such as the bridges and tunnels where traffic backs up every day.

By using image processing and computer vision techniques to extract aerosol concentrations from their samples, the researchers hope to track aerosol changes at different locations around the region, attempting to draw a correlation between types and concentrations of aerosols and auto exhaust.

Yousef and Iftekharuddin also hope to classify which aerosols are generated locally, and which are transported from other locations, to demonstrate the different types of airborne pollutants to which Hampton Roads residents are exposed.

The Vision Lab's work has been recognized by grant-funding agencies, particularly in the homeland security field, for several years. Researchers at the lab focus on developing new algorithms and architectures for real-time applications in the areas of signal processing, image processing, computer vision, pattern recognition and biologically inspired object recognition.