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Released July 12, 2004


STENNIS SPACE CENTER -- Students in The University of Southern Mississippi's Department of Marine Science will have the opportunity this fall for firsthand experience with one of the world's most technologically advanced survey systems.

Optech International, a subsidiary of Toronto-based Optech Inc., will sponsor a graduate-level course on airborne laser technology this fall within Southern Miss' Department of Marine Science. Optech Inc. is the world's leading manufacturer of airborne laser mapping technology.

"Over the past several years, The University of Southern Mississippi's dedication to teaching and research in hydrographic science has resulted in the creation of a world-class academic program," said Dr. Grady Tuell, managing director of Optech International.

Tuell is now a new adjunct professor for the Southern Miss Department of Marine Science. "I will teach a graduate course on the topic of airborne laser technology and its application to surveying problems in shallow water and coastal mapping environments," Tuell said. "I will rely upon my Optech colleagues, both here and in Canada, to assure that we create a challenging and interesting course. I will bring in guest lecturers who are truly world-class authorities in all aspects of laser mapping technology."

Optech International has also donated $250,000 worth of hydrographic laser-specific software for student education and research associated with the course.

"Currently, no university teaches graduate-level courses in bathymetric airborne laser mapping," Tuell said. "I'd like to see Southern Miss become an academic center of expertise in this technology, and in the fusion of airborne laser data with other data sets which ultimately improve our understanding of the shallow water environment."

Tuell's expertise in this relatively new technology will expand curriculum for current Ph.D. candidates in the Department of Marine Science who are seeking a doctorate in marine science with a concentration in hydrographic science.

"We currently have two students seeking that degree right now," said Don Roman, director of Southern Miss' Hydrographic Science Research Center at Stennis. "This (doctoral) level course is simply not available anywhere else and adding this to their curriculum will be a tremendous benefit to their degree program."

The new course will also benefit students seeking the master's degree in hydrographic science, as airborne laser mapping is becoming an extremely useful tool in the surveyor's arsenal.

Optech's system combines a powerful, probing laser radar, or "lidar," and high-speed electronics on an airborne platform, usually a small airplane. By surveying water depths from the air, the lidar avoids the time and access problems that hinder survey platforms on the water.

"This is an evolving technology in hydrographic science and one that we're pleased our students will learn more about from Dr. Tuell," Roman said.

Tuell received his doctoral and master's degrees from Ohio State University and a bachelor's degree from the University of Georgia. Before assuming his current position with Optech, Tuell completed 20 years of active duty with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He was also an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Coastal Engineering for two years at the University of Florida.

Optech International established offices at Stennis Space Center in 2001, providing the company with proximity to government customers and academic collaborators. Last month, the company relocated to new offices at the Stennis Airport.

The Southern Miss Department of Marine Science is strategically located at Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, Miss., home to the world's largest population of oceanographers and hydrographers. The department offers both master's and doctoral degrees in marine science and a master's degree in hydrographic science.


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July 21, 2004 2:19 PM