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Mizzou Engineering researcher highlighting nighttime vision

At far left is Mahmoud Almasri, an assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering who, with his research team, is working with a infrared technology to produce smaller, lighter, low-cost infrared cameras that will give soldiers better nighttime vision. With Almasri are, from left, doctoral students Muhammad Lutful Hai and Wu Yifan ; master's candidate Shibajyoti Ghosh Dastider; undergraduate Truc Phan Thanh Bui; and doctoral student Qi Cheng.

A Mizzou Engineering researcher aims to shed light on nighttime military operations with a revolutionary infrared camera that would allow soldiers to see farther and more clearly than existing technology allows.

Mahmoud Almasri, an electrical and computer engineering assistant professor, received in May a three-year, $200,286 grant from the Army Research Office to develop an infrared-sensitive material along with an uncooled infrared detector that would pave the way for an advanced camera providing high-resolution images. Cameras incorporating the proposed technology would be affordable, lightweight, low-power and easy to use, Almasri said.

“This technology has the potential to produce a new generation of smaller, lighter, low-cost infrared cameras,” Almasri said.

Almasri’s work is centered on a mix of silicon and germanium – both standard semiconductor materials – combined with oxygen, a material known as silicon germanium oxide. He is seeking the right mix to create a silicon germanium oxide that would clearly exhibit changes in its electrical resistance in the presence of infrared radiation.

The material’s change in resistance must be easily distinguishable from electrical “noise,” since it is to form the foundation of the infrared camera’s high-resolution electronic images, Almasri said.

Using that impressionable silicon germanium oxide, Almasri plans to build an infrared detector sensitive to changes in electrical resistance called a microbolometer. The microbolometer would not need bulky cryogenic cooling equipment, reducing its cost, he said.

The size of Almasri’s proposed microbolometer also would offer the benefit of higher-resolution images. The microbolometer would measure between 17 and 25 microns, allowing more microbolometers per detector array to increase the quality of the camera’s images while reducing its overall size and weight.

Almasri also plans to place supporting arms underneath the microbolometer in a way that would not block infrared radiation from the microbolometer pixel, keeping its signal strong.

Almasri is scheduled to deliver a microbolometer prototype to the Army in 2012. Though designed for such military uses as battlefield imaging, surveillance, threat detection and target recognition during both day and night or poor weather, Almasri believes his improved night vision camera has vast potential in civilian sectors as well.

“The same technology can be used for increased automotive safety – commercial applications, including medical diagnostics and surgical interventions, fire fighting, law enforcement and other homeland security applications,” Almasri said.