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University Professor Reflects on Research, Work in Haiti

Giles Lecture Highlights Terahertz Imaging Technologies

Robert Giles with young Haitian girl
Prof. Robert Giles in Haiti with Kerline, the first Haitian student that Giles and his family started to support in 2003.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

University Professor Robert Giles, chair of the Physics and Applied Physics Department, is walking the walk when it comes to promoting science education and cutting-edge research both here at UMass Lowell and abroad.

His latest research involves the use of high-frequency microwaves to “see through” clothing to reveal any hidden weapons or explosives; a portable radar system that allows soldiers in the field to tell whether an activity is friendly or hostile; and a safe, non-invasive technique for detecting different types of human skin cancers.

These are just some of the exciting things being done with submillimeter-wave (also known as terahertz) imaging as well as millimeter-wave and microwave imaging that he will highlight when he delivers the University Professor Lecture — entitled “Terahertz Imaging Technologies: Investigating the Applications” — on Wednesday, April 13 at 4 p.m. at Alumni Hall on North Campus. The lecture is free and open to the public.

In his lecture, Giles will also discuss his work in promoting science education in Haiti, complete with photos from his visit to Port-au-Prince in January, a year after the devastating earthquake.

University Professorship

Giles was named UMass Lowell’s University Professor last May. It is the most esteemed title bestowed on a faculty member. The honor recognizes an individual who, over a period of years, has consistently demonstrated exemplary teaching, internationally significant research and extraordinary service to the University community.

Giles’s term as University Professor runs for three years, from Sept. 1, 2010 through June 30, 2013. He joins Prof. Susan Braunhut (2008–2011) and Prof. Kenneth Geiser (2009–2012) in holding this distinction.

Among Giles’s numerous accomplishments, he was recognized for his work as director and principal investigator at UMass Lowell’s Submillimeter-Wave Technology Laboratory (STL). The Lab, which recently received a five-year, $27 million renewal grant from the U.S. Army’s National Ground Intelligence Center, has been leading the way in developing and applying transmitter and receiver technologies, primarily in the frequency range of 100 gigahertz to 3 terahertz, in the areas of military surveillance, homeland security, medical diagnostics, and scientific and academic research.

As a member of the physics faculty, Giles has taught introductory physics and astronomy as well as developed upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses in automation laboratory research and the physics of materials and devices. He was awarded the department’s Teaching Excellence Award in 2003 and 2006.

A Fourth-World Country with First-World Possibilities

Giles, who has been leading an effort to initiate a development studies research team in Haiti since 2003, will share his photos and experiences from his recent visit. 

“The pictures depict a distressed, impoverished country beyond self-repair,” he says. “But it’s a society, culture and people that I have grown to love. I travel to Haiti to develop a firsthand relationship and understanding of the country. A fourth-world country by International Banking System standard, I believe Haiti has first-world possibilities by virtue of its geographical location in the Caribbean.”

Giles has been encouraging Haitian high-school students to explore their academic abilities and opportunities in higher education through the use of introductory college-level science curricula. He has also been submitting proposals to funding agencies in an effort to establish this project team as a research center at UMass Lowell.

“Once I was told by a missionary that ‘you must stand where they stand and sit where they sit to understand the poor in this world,’” he says. “Now having the privilege of many 10-day visits to Haiti, my Haitian friends, journeys and stories create a foundation of experience that has changed my life to its core.”
Haitian student
Giles has been supporting the education of Haitian student Pouchon Amazan for the past five years, augmenting his curriculum with materials in astronomy and physics. Amazan graduated from high school in the spring of 2010 and has been accepted in the UMass Lowell–Navitas program for the fall semester.
UMass Lowell Professor Robert Giles with Haitian high-school student
Giles climbs to the roof of a building in the Haitian rural town of Sukeri Anri to upgrade the building’s solar panels. Electricity is rare in the outlying regions of the country.
UMass Lowell Professor Robert Giles with young Haitian boy