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Alum is dedicated to engineering a safer nation

Photo of Eric Evans sitting in front of the entrance to MIT Lincoln LaboratoryEric EvansFrom conducting the first satellite television transmission in the 1960s to more recent advances in airborne collision avoidance systems and space surveillance, MIT Lincoln Laboratory has remained on the forefront of developing technology for national security for the past 64 years. Buckeye engineer Eric Evans has been at the helm of the historic research laboratory since 2006, guiding its strategic direction as well as the overall technical and administrative operations.

One of just 40 federally funded research and development centers, Lincoln Laboratory boasts more than 3,800 employees and 2.1 million square feet of research space. The organization focuses on advanced technology development and system prototyping in areas as diverse as air and missile defense, aerospace, homeland protection, communication systems, cyber security, bioengineering, advanced electronics, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems.

The three-time electrical engineering alumnus (’83, ’85 MS, ’88 PhD) began his research career as a graduate student at The Ohio State University ElectroScience Laboratory, working on techniques to predict and reduce the levels of scattered light in optical systems under Professor Emeritus Stuart Collins. After graduating in 1988, he joined Lincoln Laboratory’s radar systems technology group. Besides sharing interest in common research areas, the two laboratories are similar in other ways, Evans explained. 

“At Ohio State, I learned how to work on problems that didn’t have a clear solution and that really helped with the research that we do at Lincoln Laboratory,” Evans said. “The research and development culture that I was accustomed to at the ElectroScience Laboratory is very similar to the culture here at Lincoln. I felt very well-prepared.”

From 1999 to 2006, Evans led Lincoln Laboratory's Air and Missile Defense Technology Division, directing programs associated with air and missile defense architectures, sensor technology, automatic target recognition and open systems architectures. Prior to 1999, he was the leader of the Air Defense Techniques Group, where he oversaw efforts in radar modernization, overland cruise missile defense and ship self-defense.

Because the laboratory’s work is focused on prototyping, the constant influx of new challenges has kept Evans interested and engaged throughout his 27-year career there, he shared.

“I really like working in the R&D environment. You’re always moving on to a new challenge, and that’s why I have stayed at Lincoln Laboratory for so many years,” Evans said. “A lot of the technical problems here are very ambiguous, and it’s a combination of art and engineering that leads to something that’s new and useful.”

Evans’ radar work has received wide acclaim. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2015 for his efforts in the “development of remote sensing systems, improvised explosive device (IED) detection and ship antimissile defense.” He is a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the IEEE, and he received IEEE's Aerospace and Electronics Systems Society M. Barry Carlton Award in 1994 for a paper on advanced radar signal processing.

“For the radar work we’ve done, we’ve tried to make systems that are resilient to high-power jamming or interference from external sources, as well as systems that can reject reflections from buildings, mountains or towers that could interfere with small targets the radar might be tracking,” said Evans. “A lot of the research and development has involved making new systems that can work in a range of challenging environments and still provide ways of protecting our military people in harm’s way.”

Building systems that add new capabilities for our nation’s defense is what Evans is most passionate about. That passion is evident in his work as the vice chair of the Defense Science Board, where he has co-led task forces on improvised explosive devices, and cyber security and reliability in a digital cloud. Composed of leading U.S. scientists and engineers, the board advises the Department of Defense on science and technology issues.

Throughout his career, Evans has also remained active with his alma mater, serving on the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering’s advisory board for a number of years before joining the college’s External Advisory Council at the invitation of Dean David B. Williams. He received the college’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2012.

And while Evans may be the chief Buckeye at Lincoln Lab, he’s far from the only one.

“We hire a lot of Ohio State grads at MIT Lincoln Laboratory and they do very well,” he said. “I think it’s the combination of the strength of the classwork as well as the hands-on experience students get at Ohio State that allows them to take on projects like we have at Lincoln.”

The secret of his success, Evans said, is to never stop learning.

“You’re never really done learning, in a role like this. I’ve been very fortunate to be within an organization that keeps evolving and educating people as they go through their careers and that has helped to keep many of us here near the state of the art,” he said. “Continual learning is, I think, a key part of doing well in engineering.”

by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications, 

Tags: Alumni