NTB: How has NASA used QWIP technology in the past, and how would this new version be used?
Jhabvala: QWIP technology is still an emerging technology, in NASA terms. NASA wants use technologies that are proven, that have gone through a technology-readiness level, that where all the risks have been retired. In that sense, NASA is very conservative, and rightly so. You don't want to be taking risks on a one-shot, 1 billion-dollar satellite. You want everything to be proven and a done deal. QWIPS, as far as I know, has not flown in any NASA flight mission.
We have used them in a number-and this is all part of the path to getting then into flight missions-we have flown them in a number of Earth-observing aircraft. And we've flown as part of a consortium that was called SAFARI 2000, which was a large collaboration between NASA and other institutions to do environmental monitoring in southern Africa. We are currently, just recently finished, flying a QWIP camera, the 8.5 narrow-band one, in a collaboration called BASE-ASIA, which is another consortium to do environmental monitoring in southeast Asia, Thailand mostly.
We have flown them on a number of aircraft to look around this area, Greenbelt; we've flown them in Monterrey, CA, to do terrestrial observations. And so we're trying to do our part to get them pretty matriculated into the whole NASA technology-readiness program. But at this point, NASA hasn't selected them for any missions. They have very recently had some very good proposals submitted; not by us, but by other organizations, very competitive proposals for NASA missions, but I don't think any have been selected.
NTB: What earthbound applications could QWIPS have?
Jhabvala: I keep a running list! I just got an inquiry from the National Geological Survey. There's the semi-obvious "earth science stuff," which is studying the troposphere and stratosphere temperature and identifying trace chemicals-hopefully there aren't many, but they are out there. Studying the tree-canopy energy balance, measure cloud layers, in emissivities-droplet-particle sizes, composition, and height-a whole range of pollutant measurements, like from volcanic eruptions. We track dust particles-we could, but we haven't yet, that's an application QWIPS could be used for; oddly enough, dust storms from the Sahara Desert deposits dust in New York. We monitor that, as well as CO2 absorption, coastal erosion, we can look at ocean/river thermal gradients-like I said, these are very sensitive to measuring temperatures around room temperature. We can do ground-based astronomy, temperature sounding, which is measuring temperature as a function of distance or height.
And then there are applications different from earth science. One is medical diagnosis. There is a company in New York who is actually using a QWIP as part of a system they built to determine whether tumors are benign or cancerous. So there are medical applications, and I would like to pursue those. What we did in Africa is very easy, which was to locate forest fires, and then after the fire goes out, locate hotspots your eyes can't identify.
I keep a list, in different journals, a list of things people would like to measure but don't know how, like locations of unwanted vegetation. This alien vegetation is a big problem in the world now. People bring in prickly-pear cactus and the next thing you know, that's all that's growing. Or kudzu. There is a whole range of things that are growing where they shouldn't be that choke out the local vegetation.
Then there is monitoring crop health. By scanning the crops in the infrared and then looking at their spectral fingerprints, we can get a handle on whether they have too much water, too little water, maybe they're diseased or healthy. One of the interesting things we have discovered, we were invited to Brazil to present on this: one of the problems they have, they have these power lines that run across the Amazon, and that's many hundreds to thousands miles of power lines in this dense forest. And their transformers routinely go bad. And so, right now, they have to send someone to find this dead transformer to replace it. If the transformer is heating up, it would be very easy to spot it with a QWIP camera.