Physics Alumnus Improves Radar Systems


Photo courtesy of Derek Hullinger

“Physics” and “easier to understand” aren’t phrases that ordinarily appear together, but that’s what BYU alumnus Derek Hullinger is trying to accomplish.

“I love to make things better,” Hullinger said. “I like saying, ‘We could make that just a little bit faster by doing this,’ or ‘We could make it a little bit easier to understand by doing this.’”

Hullinger’s interest in physics started before he was a student at BYU.

“When I was in high school, I took a physics class and absolutely loved it,” Hullinger said. “I liked math before that, but I loved how physics showed me how I could use math to explain things that you see in the world around you.”

That initial interest pushed Hullinger (BS ‘97 Physics, MS ’00 Physics, Brigham Young University; PhD ’05 Physics, University of Maryland) to pursue three degrees and eventually a career in physics.

Shortly after receiving his bachelor’s in physics, Hullinger worked with NASA on the Swift Burst Alert Telescope project. The telescope’s purpose was to study gamma ray bursts, or powerful explosions of stars in distant galaxies.

“My job was to come up with a mathematical model to describe the relationship between the energy of each gamma-ray photon that is absorbed by the telescope’s detectors and the electrical signal produced by the detectors,” Hullinger said.

Hullinger currently works as a systems engineer at IMSAR. IMSAR develops and manufactures Synthetic Aperture Radars (SAR), a radar system that can produce detailed images of large areas.

“Imagine this radar sitting in the sky, 3,000 feet up,” Hullinger said. “It sends out a pulse of microwave radiation, and the pulse bounces off anything it comes in contact with. The ‘echoes’ come back to the radar and tell it how far away different objects are.”

Hullinger’s work at IMSAR involves developing new types of radar systems and improving those that have already been developed.

“Our company has found a way to make these devices incredibly small, incredibly low power, and incredibly cost effective,” Hullinger said. “They can be flown on small, unmanned vehicles, which is a first for synthetic aperture radar.”

Hullinger said his time at BYU prepared him for the work he’s done, particularly by teaching him how to learn.

“When I first began working at IMSAR, I didn’t know anything about radar systems,” Hullinger said. “But I did know how to learn about radar systems.”

More Information on This Article

Article Source/Further Information

News and Events

Image for 2024 Student Research Conference
The 2024 SRC will be held on February 24. Abstracts are due January 26. Come present your research, compete for prizes, and have a pizza lunch.
Image for Wesley Morgan Doubles AP Physics Enrollment
Y Magazine recognizes finalist for the 2023 National Science Foundation’s Presidential Award of Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching
Image for BYU Women in Physics Students Thrive at CUWiP
Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics provides support and opportunities for female BYU physics students
Image for New Faculty Member, Dr. Micah Shepherd
Dr. Micah Shepherd, Acoustic Physicist, joins faculty
Image for Nanoparticle Drug Delivery Using Magnetism
Dr. Karine Chesnel awarded Interdisciplinary Research Origination Grant
Image for Sommerfeldts Called as Mission Leaders
Professor Scott and Lisa Sommerfeldt in Missouri Independence Mission
Image for Sounding out the Deep: Traci Neilsen’s Trip to the North Atlantic
A recent research adventure took Dr. Traci Neilsen and two students to the North Atlantic Ocean. Neilsen, an associate professor of physics at BYU, and her team apply artificial intelligence to noises in the ocean to classify the seabed.
Image for Reveling in Uncertainty
Despite the inherent time constraints of engaging undergraduate and graduate students in research, Scott Bergeson enjoys teaching this “seek and find” principle to his students, a principle that has become his philosophy for life.
Image for Steve Summers' Insights for Students
Alumni Steve Summers answers interview questions for current students