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BAE Systems Official, Alumnus Has Natural Presence at WPI

A pit viper snake, digital camera and microbolometer technology have what in common?

This isn't a riddle that only an engineer could love. Rather, it was part of a presentation Wednesday by WPI alumnus Tom Arseneault BS '85, president of Sensor Systems, a division of the Electronics and Integrated Solutions Operating Group of BAE Systems.

Infrared sensors found in the nostrils of the viper operate much like the pixels in a digital camera and those found in microbolometers, uncooled thermal sensors that are used as detectors in a thermal camera, Arseneault said.

Arseneault spoke to students gathered at Atwater Kent Laboratories about how engineers use nature to develop sensor and countermeasure applications.

"It's amazing how nature can be a parallel to what we do in electronics," Arseneault said. "Much of what we do in electronic sensing--in hearing, seeing, feeling, what's going on, can be found in the natural environment around us."

The New Hampshire resident explained to the students how moths use the pulsating sounds of bats to steer clear of their predators.

Bats send out signals that bounce off moths much like the radar technology used in military aircraft, Arseneault said. The bats use the return direction of the sound to help find their prey, and the moths use the intensity of the bats' pulsating sounds to try to evade them.

What is seen as natural in the animal world now is used in electronic warfare. Radar warning helps identify when an enemy aircraft is zeroing in, and can be used to avoid detection.

Arseneault said BAE Systems uses small, multidisplinary teams to design, develop and test innovative solutions. The firm, which is the sixth largest defense and aerospace company in the U.S., sponsors an Engineering Leadership Development Program that exposes new graduates to real-world engineering problems before they return to school to receive their master's degree. WPI is one of about five schools participating in the master's program.

Arseneault, who received a bachelor's and master's degree in electrical engineering from WPI, leads his business unit's work in infrared imaging, precision targeting solutions, integrated sensor and signal processing, identification and surveillance, and more.

Sensor Systems and E&IS are headquartered in Nashua, N.H.

October 9, 2008

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