NORMAN — The University of Oklahoma's weather radar program already represents one of the university's top priorities.
Now, the university hopes to expand on that program, moving from working strictly in weather radar to teaching and researching other uses for the technology.
At a meeting last month, the OU Board of Regents approved a plan to begin work on the university's Radar Innovations Laboratory, a $15 million project that will be a centerpiece of those efforts.
The OU College of Engineering also recently hired four faculty members to join the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Although their expertise in weather-
Those faculty members are the first step in building the university's expertise in the use of radar for non-weather purposes, such as early warning systems for incoming aircraft, land mine detection and sense-and-avoid systems for unmanned aerial drones, said Kelvin Droegemeier, the university's vice president for research.
The four new hires won't be the last the university makes in this area, he said. The university is still looking to hire more experts in the field, whether that means bringing them in from government jobs or luring them from other universities.
“We want to continue growing, bring in more talent,” he said.
Droegemeier said the project came out of a recognition that the radar program is one of the university's unique strengths. In years past, OU President David Boren began working to identify programs in which the university was especially strong, and work to turn those programs into world-class enterprises.
Having strengths like radar research helps the institution as a whole, Droegemeier said, because it brings in revenue in the form of research grants. It also increases the university's prestige, he said.
In that sense, Droegemeier said, the university's academic side is borrowing an idea from its athletic department. In the same way the athletic department emphasizes football, Droegemeier said, the university identifies a few strengths and works to build on them. All the while, it ensures it offers adequate support to every other program on campus.
“You can't do that in 20 areas,” he said. “You have to pick a few.”
Once complete, the university's new Radar Innovations Laboratory will
Robert Palmer, the director of the Atmospheric Radar Research Center, said the new facility will include a high-bay garage designed to accommodate taller radar trucks that are fitted for storm chasing. The building also will include classified research space designed for U.S. Defense Department programs, he said.
Other features will