A University of Nebraska-Lincoln engineer's idea is among the top 10 winners in the U.S. Department of the Navy's national Chief of Naval Research Challenge.
Ming Han, assistant professor of electrical engineering, will receive $100,000 for his research initiative, "Miniature and Durable Fiber-Optic Microphone for Accurate Measurement of High-Level Noise." The Office of Naval Research selected 10 winners from nearly 100 proposals nationwide.
"The winners were ultimately chosen based on potential and how well the idea supports the needs of the Navy," said Rear Adm. Nevin Carr, chief of naval research.
In his proposal, Han said permanent noise-induced hearing loss is a major and increasing disability category, especially for military personnel. Weapons including aircraft and artillery can generate noise levels up to 180 decibels, which can damage people's hearing. Accurately assessing noise exposure is key to developing better noise protection tools, but current microphones aren't capable of measuring extreme levels.
Han thinks he has a potential solution. He is developing a fiber-optic microphone that could provide the necessary measurement range, sensitivity, accuracy and durability. At the thickness of a human hair, this microphone offers high-accuracy measurement for challenging environments — especially those with limited space or high temperatures.
"This design's smaller size should have fewer problems with vibrations, such as conditions near jet engines," Han said, and its tough fibers would be more robust in structure than existing microphones.
"I am pleased my work may provide the Navy with an invaluable tool in developing noise-protection and noise-control technologies," said Han. He plans to develop an early version of the fiber-optic microphone within a year, and prove the design's principle with lab tests followed by on-site testing at a Navy airfield.
Han said this microphone could have industrial applications for environments with harsh conditions, or interference from other electronic devices. In an MRI setting with a strong magnetic field inside the MRI chamber, his optical microphone design would have an advantage over traditional microphones.
Han joined UNL in 2008 and specializes in fiber-optic chemical, biological and physical sensing. He earned his doctorate in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech and his master's and bachelor's degrees in electronic engineering from Tsinghua University in China.
The Department of the Navy's Office of Naval Research, based in Washington, D.C. at the Naval Research Lab, provides the science and technology necessary to maintain the Navy and Marine Corps' technological advantage.