Electrical Engineer Studies Sound in the Ocean

Posted: November 11, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Kathleen Wage
Kathleen Wage

The research interests of Kathleen Wage, assistant professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering, involving long-range acoustic propagation, have taken her to the Pacific the last two summers. A synthesis of array processing, acoustics and oceanography, her work uses propagation physics to design signal processing algorithms for sonar systems.

These algorithms allow her to study the propagation of low-frequency sound over long ranges in the ocean. Her research is of great interest to the Office of Naval Research, which is funding her work. Long-range propagation research holds the possibility of detecting and localizing sources at great distances. Because the speed of sound depends on the temperature of the water, average temperature can be measured by timing how long it takes sound to travel from one point to another. This process, called acoustic tomography, also has import for studies of large-scale ocean climate.

Kathleen Wage and colleague deploy buoy in the ocean
Kathleen Wage, left, helps John Kemp of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution deploy one of the subsurface buoys in the Pacific in 2004.
Photo courtesy Kathleen Wage

In the summer of 2004, Wage and colleagues from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution deployed two long receiver arrays and four acoustic sources. They located the equipment several thousand kilometers north of Hawaii in water 5,000 meters deep (several times greater than the depth of the Grand Canyon). They returned in June 2005 to recover the arrays and sources. Wage and her students are now processing the data from this experiment.

Wage was honored with an Outstanding Teaching Award in 2004 from the Volgenau School of Information Technology and Engineering for her work in the classroom and for developing a standardized exam, the Signals and Systems Concept Inventory, which measures conceptual understanding of linear systems. The National Science Foundation recently awarded her and her colleague, John Buck, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, a three-year grant to further develop this exam.

Wage has a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and the SM, EE and PhD degrees in Electrical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program.

This article originally appeared in IT&Enews, October 2005.

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