Rice engineer awarded U.S. Army grant to improve thermal imaging systems

Alessandro Alabastri to research thermal radiation, with applications in surveillance and reconnaissance.

Alessandro Alabastri

Alessandro Alabastri, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice, has received a three-year, $360,000 grant from the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Research Laboratory’s Early Career Program to improve the performance of thermal imaging systems with potential use in surveillance and reconnaissance.

The aim of Alabastri’s proposal, “Spatial Dispersion Engineering of Multilayer Metasurfaces for Thermal Radiation Management,” is to improve the detection of objects in high-temperature and hazardous environments.

“The project focuses on manipulating thermal radiation to aid in the development of thermal detection and measurement technologies. By controlling the thermal signature of emitting objects, we hope to improve how they can be detected among other heated sources,” Alabastri said.

In recent decades, the use of nanophotonic designs has advanced researchers’ understanding of thermal radiation engineering. Thermal radiation is traditionally understood in terms of fluctuating currents representing the uncorrelated process of spontaneous emission.

“A pivotal moment in this field was the discovery that the spatial coherence of thermal radiation, once thought to be limited to approximately half the wavelength, could be increased,” Alabastri said. “This enhancement is achieved by harnessing surface waves, which, because of collective excitation, lend coherence to the emitted electromagnetic field.”

Alabastri earned his Ph.D. in nanosciences in 2014 from the Italian Institute of Technology and University of Genoa, Italy, where his research focused on the computational modeling of plasmonic structures. He joined the Rice faculty in 2018.