"Predator" Technology Now Available to TTU Students ThermaCam Traning Puts Students Ahead in Job Market

The professor's face glows, his eyes glimmer and his forehead emanates heat.

But Tennessee Technological University professor Steve Idem isn't upset; he's demonstrating the mechanical engineering department's newest high-tech tool for teaching.

His eerie image on a computer monitor is produced by a ThermaCam, an infrared thermography system that produces images based on the heat an object or person generates. The color-coded pictures instantly illustrate the subject's range of temperatures. The sci-fi looking results come from the same technology used in Arnold Schwarzenegger's film "Predator."

Idem, along with professors Glenn Cunningham and Darrell Hoy, secured a National Science Foundation grant and matching university funds to help their students become hot commodities in the job market.

"To our knowledge, no other university in the country uses ThermaCam as a teaching instrument in its undergraduate classes," Cunningham said. "A Tennessee Tech engineering student able to operate this equipment will have an advantage over students from other prestigious engineering schools in the competitive job market."

The camera stores up to 256 images that can be downloaded into a computer and analyzed. The images are made up of more than 64,000 small units, called pixels, and users can find the temperature of large areas or even a single pixel.

The ThermaCam, which weighs less than four pounds and looks remarkably like a home video camera, has an unlimited number of applications in industry. For one, it's a fast and accurate diagnostic tool for maintenance workers checking for unusual "hot spots" in machinery or wires.

"No longer is a researcher limited to the confines of a laboratory; you can take the ThermaCam any place you can take a camera," said Cunningham.

Factories like Cookeville's Tutco are using the system to more accurately test new products. The ThermaCam was perfect for designing a new kitchen range burner that burns more evenly than competitive products.

Shawn Goedeke, a gradate student using the ThermaCam in his research, says employers are looking to expand their use of the tool.

"Marketing departments are eager to use the ThermaCam to show clients another dimension of their products," he said. "There's no sales jargon as effective as a pretty color picture. Companies can compare their products with others in terms of heat efficiency and other qualities."

Goedeke says other uses for the ThermaCam include testing the way materials such as concrete will stand up to freezing and thawing based on flaws that can be examined.

"As a student, getting my hands on this equipment and learning how to use it to help local industries is invaluable," he said. "Tech is really giving me an advantage when I walk into a job interview with this experience."