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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Identifying bin Laden, saving lives, detecting mines are all about statistics, says award-winning URI engineering professor

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

KINGSTON, R.I. -- February 14, 2005 -- Steven Kay has taught voice recognition techniques to CIA analysts so they can identify audio recordings of Osama bin Laden. He helped develop a heart pump to save the lives of cardiac patients, and he was part of a team tasked with designing an underwater acoustic camera that can detect a mine on the hull of a ship.

Yet the University of Rhode Island researcher claims his work is mostly about statistics.

“Signals in nature, whether they’re speech, biomedical, acoustic or something else, are all statistical,” said Kay, a professor of electrical engineering from Middletown. “You need to extract the signal from the background noise, and to do that you need to understand statistics.”

Kay’s field of study is called signal processing, a discipline in which signals are processed digitally for applications like submarine detection, wireless communication, robotics, and medical ultrasound testing. For his pioneering contributions to signal processing education, Kay was recently recognized with the Signal Processing Education Award from the Signal Processing Society of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

The URI educator received the award for having written three of the most important textbooks in the field of signal processing, and for teaching short courses about signal processing to engineers in many disciplines, including those employed by defense contractors, NASA and the CIA.

"Professor Kay is one of most accomplished scholars and best teachers in the URI College of Engineering,” said Bahram Nassersharif, URI engineering dean. “He integrates his research into his teaching and is an internationally recognized scholar in the field of statistical signal processing. We are very proud of this recognition of his many contributions to the profession as a scholar and educator."

Kay has been recognized as one of the most highly cited researchers in any engineering discipline. He has taught at URI since 1980 and has served as an industry consultant to two dozen companies and government agencies. A fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, he holds degrees from Georgia Tech, Columbia University and Stevens Institute of Technology. Prior to joining the faculty at URI, he was a senior engineer in the Submarine Signal Division at Raytheon Co. in Portsmouth.