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Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

EECS Student Accepts Position at Air Force Research Lab

Published on November 20th, 2014 by Michael Prittie

LAWRENCE — EECS PhD student Justin Metcalf has accepted a position as a Research Electronics Engineer with the Sensors Directorate at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

''It's basically a dream job where I can pursue cutting edge research and collaborate with world-renowned experts in the field,'' Metcalf said.

Metcalf's entry into AFRL began with an internship under the Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP) during the summer of 2011. For 3 months Metcalf worked on the modeling of radar clutter for future cognitive based systems. He continued his PhD work in collaboration with AFRL for the next 3 years while working under his advisor, KU EECS professor Dr. Shannon Blunt.

Dr. Blunt regards Metcalf's newly awarded job placement at AFRL as a prestigious research position at one of the top institutions in the world involved with radar research.

''Government defense labs such as AFRL give students the opportunity to pursue a real dream job where they get to work on exciting problems alongside many of the biggest names in the field. This is a very rewarding career path for students,'' says Blunt, who speaks from experience as he spent the first three years of his research career at the Radar Division of the Naval Research Laboratory.

Since starting at KU, Metcalf's master's research on radar-embedded communications focused on the development of covert communication methods that could 'hide' among radar echoes from the surrounding environment. For this work, Metcalf was awarded the EECS Richard and Wilma Moore Award for best Master's Thesis in 2012.

Metcalf's PhD research stems from his summer at AFRL and addresses radar detection under adverse conditions.

''Detecting the things you are interested in is not necessarily the hard part. It's not detecting everything else that you don't care about that is really difficult. It's essentially a needle in the haystack kind of problem – where the needle is unfortunately rather hay-shaped,'' says Blunt.

Metcalf is working on techniques to reduce these false alarms by borrowing from the statistical signal processing and machine learning disciplines. Metcalf has also had the opportunity to participate in other projects including radar transmitter design, radar tomography, and space-time adaptive processing.

''I would advise new graduate students to take advantage of all the opportunities here [at KU],'' Metcalf said. ''Don't focus solely on your research, but also learn about what your fellow students are doing. Exposure to topics across your own discipline, as well as across other disciplines, can lead to new and exciting ideas.''

After completing his bachelor's degree in Computer Engineering from Kansas State University in 2006, Metcalf worked for two years at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Fort Worth, Texas. Realizing it would require an advanced degree to get into the truly interesting work, Metcalf came to the University of Kansas in 2008 to start graduate school in Electrical Engineering.

Metcalf starts at AFRL in mid-November as a full time civilian employee of the Air Force and expects to defend his PhD dissertation in January.