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Dual-Use Technology
January 26, 2012   
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Brig. Gen. Prof. Zygmunt Mierczyk, rector of the Military University of Technology in Warsaw, talks to Karolina Olszewska.

In terms of the way it operates, can the Military University of Technology be compared to a business organization in any way?
The Military University of Technology in Warsaw is a major center for scientific research and studies and for implementation and modernization projects in the field of technical sciences, mathematics, physics, chemistry, and economics. We are the only state-run university in Poland whose budget is nearly 60 percent made up of funds generated by our own research teams. We make money through research and implementation projects carried out both for domestic customers and as part of international grants. Today WAT aspires to be a modern research university, which means one that trains students, conducts research, but also implements research results in industry. We pride ourselves on working with over 400 partners from industry. Our contacts with industry result in a large number of implementation projects. We try to focus on the most important projects resulting from the research priorities of the Ministry of Defense, in areas where we have international achievements.

Apart from the defense industry, what other sectors do WAT projects focus on?
As in the case of every university of technology, our key research areas are information technology, electronics, chemistry, construction, surveying and cartography, mechanics and mechatronics, materials engineering, aviation and aerospace. Our range of experiences and applications is very broad. As a result, the companies we work with, which include both private and public-sector businesses, also those operating in the defense industry, have many opportunities to put our research findings and specific products to a good use.

WAT’s achievements are primarily linked with the defense sector. Our flagship product, the GROM anti-aircraft missile system, was developed at our university from beginning to end. We take care of this product at all the stages: implementation, production, modernization. Our other flagship projects include fire control systems—we have produced several hundred of these—laser radiation warning systems, weapons systems and military equipment for individual soldiers, as well as radar systems, in addition to the modernization of missile systems. Our research teams are working together with defense companies to develop production capacity in new technologies and in the modernization of munitions and military equipment.

WAT is also known for its achievements in telecommunications...
Many of our teams work with well-known suppliers of telecommunications systems such as RADWAR and Przemysłowy Instytut Telekomunikacji. Some of our former employees moved to work for these at a time when WAT was undergoing reforms. This gives us direct contact with industrial partners. Our graduates have also found employment in up-and-coming, modern ICT companies such as WB Electronic, KenBit, Wasco, and Aseco. Our role as a consultant is also important. Together, we check various solutions, conduct joint research, and apply to take part in various projects and programs.

What’s the story behind the university’s Security Engineering Center? Why was it set up?
The center brings together special inter-faculty laboratories that have no equivalents in other institutions. These include the laboratories of biometrics, cryptology, thermal imaging, avionics, satellite and LIDAR [Light Detection and Ranging] technology. The center provides services in the form of expert analytical work for the Ministry of Defense. The center’s research areas and operations are so extensive that institutions such as the Ministry of Internal Affairs, including the police force, Border Guard, Fire Service, and the Prison Service, have also expressed an interest in the work of the laboratories making up the center.

What services do these laboratories offer to the security sector and other branches of science and industry?
A standout example is infrared imaging, or the ability to “see” temperature. A number of dual-use technologies are related to infrared imaging. They have been developed for use in military observation systems. Even in complete darkness and poor weather conditions, they are capable of spotting any object that has a temperature slightly higher than the surroundings—for example, a human being or a military vehicle. The same infrared cameras, though perhaps slightly less sensitive, are used in medicine to assess the patient’s health status and to diagnose various diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, inflammations and cancer.

Cryptology, in turn, is associated with the transmission of encoded data in a secure way. This technology can also be used outside the defense sector in areas such as the banking system, which is wholly based on data encryption. Encoding devices are also used by companies to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive data. In the modern world, it is only a matter of time before hackers break the code. If our national encoding device cannot be broken, as its maker insists, this means that we are offering a very good tool for cryptography.

Dual-use technologies can also be found in the area of laser telemetry. Poland’s first lasers were developed in the 1960s by scientists from WAT. Lasers and optoelectronic devices are used for distance measurements, to detect contamination, to monitor chemical and biological threats—purposes of key importance to defense. They are also used in medicine. WAT developed the first ophthalmic laser in Europe. In the 1990s our university developed a method for photodynamic cancer treatment. It relies on the use of laser radiation and photosensitizers, or chemicals that settle near the tumor after being introduced to the patient’s body. In this case, the laser is used not to do the cutting, but to arouse the photosensitizers, which will then wreak havoc in the cancer cells. This modern method is being developed and used in several clinics in Poland—those dealing with gynecology, dermatology, laryngology and neurology.

How many of WAT’s technologies have been patented?
We have about 20 patents per year. Over the past several years, we have secured over 170 domestic patents and 43 foreign patents. The issue of patenting is important but not the most important. What’s more important are license agreements for specific products. Every patent can be circumvented, but a license agreement is concluded between the producer and the team taking care of the production process. Thanks to this, we have an influence on the development of a specific product, which is the most valuable thing for us.

It is worth noting that we are the 17th largest technical university in Poland in terms of size. But when we look at other statistics, in terms of funds raised, the number of research projects and deployments, we top the list on many counts. Projects pursued at our university meet very high standards and have a high level of financing. Our partners know that when WAT carries out a project, it will always end with a practical application, and will not be shelved at some point.

Does the university have a technology transfer center and in what way does it raise funds for the commercial application of its research results?
In addition to its six departments, the university includes the Institute of Optoelectronics, which operates on an independent basis with department status. The Institute of Optoelectronics is a research institute only by name, because in reality it serves as our technology transfer center.

WAT is where some internationally renowned Polish companies dealing with advanced technologies have their roots. At a time when terms like transfer centers, spin-offs and spin-outs, and “professorial companies” were not yet known in Poland, we were already active in these areas. WAT researcher Wojciech Nawrot even founded a technology park of his own design. With the money obtained from the sale of more than 200 licenses worldwide for a method for drying out buildings, he built two laboratory and production facilities, each with 800 square meters of laboratory space. Some of our professors and their teams work there pursuing research and implementation work as well as production.

The Institute of Optoelectronics, which has been in operation for over 30 years, is exclusively focused on implementation. Each department has its own flagship products, but when it comes to completely new complex technologies, we establish in-house consortiums to deal with specific projects in areas such as unmanned aircraft, directed energy systems, biometric equipment, and equipment for “the soldiers of the future.”

The university ranks high in league tables in terms of raising funds for projects and the practical application of its research results. Where do these funds come from?
Our main partner is the National Center for Research and Development as well as EU and international institutions. The greatest financial support comes from competitions announced by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, the European Defence Agency (EDA), NATO, and industry.

Just how closely do Polish scientists work with NATO?
We are a breeding ground for NATO experts. The main scientific arm of NATO is the Research Technology Organization (RTO). Polish experts are part of advisory scientific panels for NATO military staff. Most of these experts are WAT employees, lecturers and teachers. To get there they must secure the recommendation of the General Staff or a specific institution supervised by the Defense Ministry. Since Poland joined NATO, about 50 people from WAT have been working in these organizations each year. There are few people from outside our university among those working there. For example, WAT’s deputy rector for research, Prof. Andrzej Najgebauer, was deputy head of a panel working on an antiterrorism project that involved 10 countries.

Work for NATO as well as the EDA results in further projects carried out by international consortiums, doesn’t it?
The experience and knowledge gained by our experts working in these organizations is of use to consortiums pursuing research projects. Still, we obtain more funds from the European Defence Agency. The EDA, as a specialized organization of the EU, often announces competitions in which Poland is welcomed as a partner for highly developed countries. Our research teams are invited to work on projects in areas such as telecommunications technology (programmable radio technology) or a modern soldier’s helmet packed with sensors enabling battlefield visualization and feeding data to and from the soldier. We are also jointly responsible for creating the directed energy weapons program—in this case, what we’re learning is practically Star Wars stuff.

One of the prestigious projects that we are coordinating is a Polish demonstration of network-centric warfare. According to the newest warfare models, modern warfare is preceded by a cyberwar. The concept of conducting such a war is absolutely the latest thing. It has already been tested in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Poles are doing research in the field of demonstrations of system security technology, sensory networks and battlefield decision-making advantages. In this last area, operations can be planned, and by appropriately simulating the development of events, it is possible to predict one’s own losses and the resources needed to achieve military success.

It has become a customary trend in Europe to set up large consortiums of themed platforms in order to jointly carry out major projects in a way that’s rational economically. WAT is the founder and leader of the Polish Technology Platform for Security Systems, which, in addition to technical universities, includes industrial plants, research institutes and private hi-tech companies. In total, the consortium has more than 80 members.

Does the growing number of international projects make the university more international in nature?
Due to its specific features, WAT cannot be a fully open university. We have our own limited-access laboratories, but we are trying to open them to the general public. Our scientists travel abroad to lecture as part of the Erasmus program; we accept foreign students, and our students also travel to study at foreign universities.

Our research teams enter into alliances with renowned research centers, and the road to these agreements usually begins during international conferences, where scientists establish contacts. WAT researchers are highly reputed in terms of security and defense technology. The strength of our teams is determined by the quality of their work. At the same time, it is necessary to keep in mind that the specific nature of our implementation work often requires many years of painstaking research without the possibility of going public with its results. The consortiums in which we take part are a panacea for problems with opening to the world. We work with countries including Britain, the United States, the Netherlands, Spain, France, Germany, China and India—more than 60 countries in total.

Are there any WAT researchers who are household names abroad?
One well-known figure is Prof. Antoni Rogalski, a correspondent member of the Polish Academy of Sciences, an expert on infrared detectors. A “professorial” company spun off from WAT manufactures detectors developed by our professors; these detectors are among the best in the world. NASA wants to use them in a project to look for life on Mars.

Prof. Roman D±browski, an expert on liquid crystals, is another well-known scientist. In the field of liquid crystal displays, ground-breaking progress is being made before our eyes, and Poles have been working in this area for more than 30 years. Polish researchers have been recognized experts ever since the first liquid crystal displays appeared in electronic watches and mobile phones. Today we are discovering more and more new chemical compounds, which guarantee increasingly better performance for liquid crystal displays. There are no better teams in Europe in the field of liquid crystals, and Prof. D±browski is the beneficiary of a license and technology on a global scale.

Our satellite technology is very important. Following a decision by the chief surveying officer, WAT hosts a reference station that enables very precise positioning. As we know, the GPS systems used in cars can, on the basis of satellite data, determine the location of an object with an accuracy of 1-2 meters. With a reference station and appropriate calculations, it is possible to determine the location with an accuracy of 4 millimeters! This allows professionals to take part in research projects examining the movement of tectonic plates, and other projects with an application in geology. Prof. Mariusz Figurski heads a project involving the prediction of the Earth’s seismic behavior. We are also working on the possibility of applying pulsars in autonomous navigation that does not require any satellite systems, which can be easily disrupted. I don’t have to say just how important this matter is for national security.

My team deals with optoelectronics. Many of the projects handled by the Institute of Optoelectronics are applied in the economy. One example is laser remote sensing, or the use of lasers for monitoring the environment. Our LIDAR system is tested practically at every international soccer match played in Poland, monitoring the state of the atmosphere over the pitch. We are able to remotely detect any sign of chemical or biological agents being used. We are part of the environmental security monitoring system.

Besides the military, our research is used in architecture, public security, and even culture. Laser methods are perfectly suited for the renovation of works of art. A team led by Prof. Jan Marczak has pioneered the use of laser technology in the conservation of art and historic buildings in Poland. It recently completed the renovation of Sigismund’s Chapel at Wawel Castle in Cracow—about 800 square meters of space in all—from the stone to the wood to the gilding. They know how to use a laser to clean not only stone sculptures, paintings and textiles, but also historical parchments and incunabula.

Are there any women among those managing major projects? What is the percentage of women students at WAT?
There is no shortage of women among the faculty. For example, Prof. Alfreda Graczyk is conducting very important research. She is a biochemist who deals with the photodynamic treatment of cancer. Recently she has been working in the field of quantum medicine, meaning research on the quantum effects of electromagnetic radiation—that is light, X-rays, and infrared, microwave and Terahertz radiation. All this has an effect on cells, tissues, and living organisms as a whole. Prof. Dorota Kocańda, who deals with the strength of materials, especially basic research in the field of mechanics, also enjoys high prestige.

As in the case of other technical universities, women account for under 20 percent of our students.

What kind of basic research is conducted at the university?
Each department carries out some form of basic research. The Department of Cybernetics conducts basic research in the field of operations, mathematics, and cryptology. The Department of Electronics specializes in the analysis of electronic signals and sources of electromagnetic radiation. Poland’s entire radar industry operates on the basis of this knowledge. The Department of Civil Engineering and Surveying conducts research based on satellite systems; it deals with construction, but also meteorology. This team specializes in very complex numerical analysis for weather forecasting purposes.

The Mechanical Department conducts basic research in the numerical and mathematical analysis of physical processes. This results in the accurate modeling of high-impact events, for example ballistic research.

The Department of Mechatronics and Aviation researches missile systems as well as aircraft weapons, equipment and design. Together with Avio Polska and the Warsaw University of Technology, we have established a strong consortium that will study and design aircraft engines of the future.

The Department of New Technologies and Chemistry focuses on the design of new functional and structural materials such as alloys, composite materials, and polymers. Scientists working there develop methods for obtaining materials, such as a method for laser sintering of materials and manufacture of machine parts using a three-dimensional laser scanner.

How different is the kind of education provided by a military university of technology from that offered by civilian universities? How successful are WAT students on the job market after graduation?
Our teaching has the same aspect of duality as our scientific research and implementation endeavors. We train both military and civilian students, with a predominance of the latter, which gives us a number of competitive advantages over other universities. First, our students are subject to an academic discipline resulting from the general military discipline system. Many of the university’s teachers do not wear uniforms, but have a military past. There are only 150 military men among the 1,000-strong teaching faculty. Another strength and specific feature of our university is that students are in close contact with the professors; we have the best indicator in Poland in this area.

Our IT students have always led the way in Poland and internationally in the prestigious Imagine Cup team computer programming competition run by the Microsoft company. In the latest competition, our team in uniform qualified for the international finals in New York and finished sixth. The contestants were expected to very quickly write software for practical applications.

Our students have also been successful in other competitions, such as Geopiksel, in which the Surveying Science Circle involved in satellite technology leads the way. Students from the Mechanical Department’s Science Circle focused on impact guards. The Chemists’ Circle also boast considerable achievements in national competitions, for example in the field of explosive nanomaterial technology.

What is the role of promotional and marketing efforts when it comes to research conducted at your university?
We must strike a balance between what we call PR and limiting the information we provide. We must observe the rules relating to state secrets, but at the same time our big concern is the promotion of science. Our activities should be transparent and acceptable to society. The very fact that we pursue research on dual-use technology, which means research for the needs of defense and state security that is at the same time applied in industry, environmental protection, medicine and many other socially beneficial activities gives us huge advantages here. Our research publications are mainly in English.

Our PR activities are mainly designed to encourage young secondary school graduates to study at WAT. We meet with a great deal of interest among young people and teachers. This is best exemplified by a school in Turku, in Wielkopolska province, which has received EU funds to maintain a special mathematics-and-physics-and-IT class that prepares young people to study at WAT. We also look for talented people by holding a math contest for secondary school students every year. The contest’s winners receive scholarships, are provided with dorm accommodation and can enroll to study at WAT. We have signed agreements with over 100 secondary schools under the Archimedes program pursued by schools in Mazovia and Podlasie provinces. Once a week secondary school students come to our university for math, physics and chemistry classes financed by the regional educational authorities and the Ministry of Education.

WAT’s motto is “Knowledge, Ambition, Technology.” Does this accurately reflect what you do?
I think this motto reflects what we do very well. In terms of “Knowledge,” WAT has a strong position among Poland’s universities. We are seen as a perfect partner for leading technical universities because a high proportion of our research results are applied in practice and because we have unique laboratories. At the same time, we have well-developed training in basic sciences such as mathematics, physics, and chemistry, which are the core of technical sciences. Our specialties enjoy a high level of recognition; these include lasers, radar systems, nanotechnology, and information network technology.

In terms of “Ambition,” all scientists must have it if they want to work in the modern world of science. Our ambition is to improve Poland’s ratings in innovation and in the practical use of research results. We can serve as an example of a university that finds not only dual but multiple uses for its research results.

We say “Technology” because this is our product and objective. Today many hi-tech companies dealing with innovative solutions highlight the fact that they work with WAT.
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